The Sapphires is an acclaimed Australian film that’s arrival to the United States has ignited public criticism, not for its content but for its cover. The original Australian cover features four young newcomers to the entertainment industry – “The Sapphires,” played by actresses Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, and Miranda Tapsell—with comedian Chris O’Dowd peering out from behind them. This image depicts four exuberant, strong female leads, while also giving a nod to O’Dowd’s character, a male foil within the plot.
The American version of the film’s cover sends a completely different message. In this image, Chris O’Dowd is front and center, and the women are relegated to the background. What’s even more deplorable, and misleading, is the fact that The Sapphires are placed behind a blue-tinted screen, further highlighting O’Dowd’s presence, and diminishing their role as the lead characters of the film. This alteration is one that didn’t go unnoticed by American audiences, many of whom are outraged on behalf of the actresses and the real-life Sapphires they portray in the film.
The Sapphires is about a female soul quartet from Australia, who formed in order to perform for Vietnam soldiers abroad. The film is based loosely on true events, its characters representative of the original Sapphires, four Aboriginal women who managed to overcome systemic sexism and racism in 1960s and 1970s Australia to achieve their dreams. The film has been regarded as an “Australian version of Dreamgirls,” which also depicted a female soul group from around the same era, and received widespread acclaim in Australia where it was released in 2012. The Sapphires is a brilliant representation of the struggles women of color faced during the period it was set in, and does well to depict a compelling example of intersecting sexism and racism that many women were, and still are, effected by.
The cover alteration intended for American audiences has left the film’s creators, actors, and countless viewers outraged. Blurring the four Sapphires into the background not only diminishes their importance as women who overcame racial and gender obstacles, but misdirects audiences into believing that this film could very well be a comedy about a white man. The American cover “whitewashes” the experiences of the women in the film, erasing their autonomy and rendering them secondary characters in a story that is their own.
Of the cover change, actor Chris O’Dowd reportedly tweeted, “it’s ridiculous, it’s misleading, it’s ill-judged, insensitive and everything the film wasn’t.” It’s also a disturbing indicator that equal representation for all film characters, especially women of color, is still something that hasn’t been achieved in Hollywood, even in 2013.