There are a number of ways you can do this. Be born Aboriginal in a country town. Be Vietnamese in Australia during the Vietnam war. Be a woman in the workplace. And if you want to double the chances, be an African-American woman in the workplace. Sadly, even if you wait sixty years you’ll still probably be treated badly.
“Jasper Jones” is an Australian movie, set in a small town in Western Australia. Seeing it was part of my reclaim-Australia push. There was a personal incentive too: it was holiday reading for the mob at my place over Christmas; and my granddaughter, to her delight, met author Craig Silvey and director Rachel Perkins in her first week of media studies at university.
One night there’s a tap on Charlie’s window: it’s Jasper Jones, an Aboriginal lad he hardly knows, asking for help. They go off into the bush to find a girl hanging from a tree. They release her and weight her body before they bury her in the lagoon. Why? Because Jasper knows he’ll be blamed. As the story unfolds, Charlie finds himself more deeply involved, and committed to silence, causing problems with his irascible mother and preternaturally calm father.
Then there’s Charlie’s best mate Jeffrey La, a Vietnamese boy obsessed by cricket, and very good at it. But it’s the time of the Vietnam war and the small town doesn’t take kindly to the enemy living amongst them. Jeffrey’s mother has a cup of tea thrown in her face at a town gathering to plan the search for a missing girl, and two men root up his father’s prized garden after Jeffrey’s triumph at a town cricket match.
Things become darker as the missing girl’s story unfolds: not killed by the local madman, not by Jasper, not by a stray murderer, but suicide after long abuse by her father, who happens to be the town mayor. The movie ends with a fire which destroys the house of abuse, but leaves many things unpurified.
There! I’ve spilled the beans about the story. But there was more than story. The night scenes in the town and the bush are beautifully shot; Jasper is superbly acted by Aaron L McGrath as a young man who has no illusions about his place in the town where he grew up; Levi Miller captures a teenager in over his head and juggling an overprotective mother, family breakup, first love, and an understanding of the darker side of his world. The only jarring note is Toni Collette’s caricaturish portrayal of the borderline hysterical mother. The adolescent exchanges between Jeffrey and Charlie debating superheroes are hilarious, a light note riding above the darkness.
“Hidden figures” tells the story of a mathematician, an engineer, and a computer whizz who all work at NASA when America is trying to catch up with Russia in the space race. They are women, no mean feat at that time in a field colonised by men. They are also all African Americans, Coloured. The mathematician whose skills got John Glenn safely back to earth after three circuits has to run across campus to use the coloured bathroom; deal with the assumption that she is the cleaner; and use an ostentatiously marked kettle to make her coffee in the office. Even when the IBM computer moves in her capacities are essential, and she still does many calculations on a chalkboard. By then her boss has crowbarred down the sign on the coloured washroom, and taken her to high level meetings despite forbidding protocol.
These are three feisty women. The movie opens on a deserted road with a broken down car and one of them sprawled underneath it to get it going. The engineer goes to court to gain the right to attend a white school. The computer whizz has her staff ready for the arrival of computers, even though she is refused the designation “supervisor”.
The feel of the period is beautifully captured in the muted colours and of course the clothes, the cars, and the attitudes. The twins would love the footage of rockets launching.
It’s a triumphant, energetic movie. I felt like applauding at the end.