Racist Attitudes in the Movie,
Mehdi Hassanian esfahani (GS22456)
Canadian and Australian Literature
Lecturer: Dr. Malachi Edwin Vethamani
Rabbit-Proof Fence, an Australian drama based on Garimara’s book,
Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence, is a 2002 movie directed by Phillip Noyce,
which depicts a true story of the author’s mother who was forced by Protector
of Aboriginals and the law to leave her own family when she was 14, in order to
be grown up and educated in a civilized Western society; studying in a
government-run school so that be prepared to live in their houses as servants.
Rabbit-Proof Fence narrates this removal, and the girl’s attempt to run away
with her sister and her cousin to join her mother. This runaway includes a 1500
miles walk along the rabbit-proof fence, in which Molly (the elder girl and the
main character, played by Evelyn Sampi) leads the other two. On the other
hand, it is A.O. Neville (played by Kenneth Bragagh) who is the Chief
Protector of Aboriginals; one who decides for their marriage and their lives.
Presented as Mr. Devil, he is the villain who considers himself responsible of
breeding out the half-castes over multiple generations, and, as a result, orders
the girls’ capture and their recapture after their runaway.
It is also worth noting that the release of Rabbit-Proof Fence aroused
various reactions. Two distinct criticisms aroused regarding the innocence of
girls and aboriginals set against the cruelty of invaders, and the inaccurate
representation of Westerns in general and Mr. Neville in particular in Australia.
The former praises the movie and its encouragement to portray the issues
related to the stolen generation in a realistic view, and the latter accuses it of
wrong information and a misunderstanding of the book. Among them is Herald
Sun’s columnist Andrew Bolt, who compares ‘facts’ and ‘represented events in
the movie’ and claims that “crucial parts [of this story] are false or misleading.
And shamefully so”. However, the historical accuracy is out of this study and I
am to consider the movie as a credible text. In the following, I will discuss the
colonizer and colonized relationship and briefly the screen writer’s use of
gendered stereotypes to intensify racism and cultural superiority. The whole
essay can be an introduction to the study of cultural imperialism and its signs in
Racist Attitudes in Rabbit-Proof Fence
From the very beginning of colonization, the colonizers always had an
inferior view to the colonized (or aboriginal) people. Whether this superiority
was due to their developed technology, their weapons and artifacts or just a
benefit of their different color, white people advertised what Howitt calls
‘ethnocentrism’ or cultural racism, which is the representation of a group’s
superiority to another one, regarding their social values, beliefs and the cultural
norms, wherever they established a colony. He explains furthermore that this
ethnocentrism studied in universities, and lead to the ‘scientific racism’ which
tensed the situation. In 1790s, European scientists claimed that people of colour
are “biologically inferior to whites and ... intellectually and morally incapable of
self-government” (Harrold). As an example, Peterson discusses the legal
doctrine on which Britain claimed that Australia, at the time of Captain Cook’s
exploration, was ‘terra nullius’ meaning ‘land belonging to no one’ and clarifies
that this “denied that Aboriginal people had any rights to or ownership of the
land” though a number of 300,000 to 500,000 aboriginals is estimated to be
there in 1788.
Assuming the colonized people primitive and barbaric, the colonizers
consider their people supreme and of high culture, who have the right to do
anything with uncivilized and indigenous people. Rabbit-Proof Fence, shows
this quality in depth, and brings many examples in behavior and ideology of
both groups; the colonized and the colonizer, to deal with the reality of white
settlers in Australia, aboriginals, half-caste children and the child removal
To highlight the internal tension, the screen writer creates these two
opposing groups of people with distinctive values and lifestyles, where Whites
are well-equipped and they have cars (even the tracker who works with them
rides his own horse) but aboriginals walk with bare feet. White men are dressed
up, Neville’s office is tidy and he acts punctually, but aboriginals have nothing
to show off, and they are left to spend their lives on the lands. The highest point
of this contrast is when the girls are brought into the settlement; they are
washed and given ‘new cloths’ as if they are entering a new world and cannot fit
into it by the appearance they already have, and they are firmly asked, in the
following scene, to forget their language and speak English. These rules
continue, when they are forced to attend the church, sing English songs and do
things which don’t come from their own culture, but roots in the colonizer’s
culture. In this case, the movie is more than a true story or a political act against
the cruel rules of western invaders, it is a documentary on an intrepid girl’s
journey, to come back home, to leave the foreign culture she is forcedly
imposed to, and return to the traditions. It is against racism, as well as
However, the movie doesn’t make any judgments upon these two. Even
Neville is presented as a benign protector, according to Holden, and a
responsible man. Emerson claims that it “avoids being offensively and unsubtly
judgmental, rightly assuming that everyone seeing the film will be aware of
how inhuman and damaging the [child removal] policy was.” Child removal
policy, which is a shocking fact, was practiced in early 20 th century. From 1905
to 1971, white Australians built “special detention centers … across the
continent to keep the mixed-race children from ‘contamination’ the rest of
Australian society” (Russell), the policy which allowed the legal kidnapping of
aboriginals, and caused the misery of ‘stolen generation’.
The title, ‘rabbit-proof fence’, is also a repeated image through the movie.
Calling it “an audacious project to fence off wild Australia from the respectable
white people” Johanson believes that the fence is “one of the miserable ironies
in a story laden with euphemism and mendacity” as Australia doesn’t have a
native rabbit, and they were brought by European. The whole thing roots to the
colonization of Australia. According to Olsen it was “part of a colonial attempt
to make a strange new land familiar”. She explains that when Early Europeans
arrived, there was a need to detach themselves from native belongings and it
was “vital that a clear distinction be maintained between Aboriginal hunting and
the Hunt”. As a result, they brought rabbits and foxes to Australia to continue
the hobby they had ‘back home’. The over reproduction of rabbits, which was a
threat to agriculture was the cause of the fence, and the over mention of the
‘fence’ which connects south to the north of Australia, presents the colonization
of Whites in that country.
They mystery of Molly’s father, who ‘works on the rabbit fence’ and has
left the family, demonstrate the relationship between the colonizer and the
natives. There hasn’t been a marriage or love; it was just gaining a benefit of the
opportunity they found. Assuming themselves superior, Westerns considers it
their right to order, and treat aboriginals in the way they like, which is showed
in this movie by white people in the settlement.
There is also a predictive scene in the movie, to reveal the reality of these
girls’ future; when another aboriginal appears (who is segregated and probably
educated by white men and now is working as a servant with a white family)
and the husband of that family comes at night to have sex with her, which is
presented in a way as if it is a usual, every night happening, and not a sudden
act of rape.
To separate aboriginals from colonizers, Noyce also shows different ways
of communication; while westerns need to be said and yelled, half-casts
communicate by eyes. “Portraits are built up through actions, and actions often
have a great deal of subtext” (Emerson). There aren’t a lot of dialogues in the
movie, especially when aboriginals need to communicate. It seems that they
have a way with nature, and with each other, and they can feel everything.
Another point is the use of masculine stereotypes in the movie, to
intensify this gap between natives and their opponents. To show the power,
which is a false one but apparently brings superiority over aboriginals, Rabbit-
Proof Fence, divides Australian people to white men and indigenous women.
So that Noyce would be able to present the weak and strong, and distinct black
and white. Cruelty of masculinity and innocence of femininity is a familiar
theme in early 21 st century, and the director has used it to increase the effect of
his movie, and the brutality he wants to display.
To make a long story short, the movie deals with cultural racism, and racist
rules which were really practiced upto the 1971 in Australia, and lead to the
killing of aboriginals, and situation so-called ‘stolen generation’. This attitude
was a common, but inhuman and false policy by most colonizers towards
indigenous people, and Noyce has depicted this shocking fact in his movie,
Rabbit-Proof Fence, to share the pain Australian aboriginals tolerated
innocently, and record what happened in this part of history.
Bolt, Andrew. "Rabbit-proof myths ". Jim Ball. February 5, 2009
Emerson, Dan. "Rabbit-Proof Fence - Movie Review". Stylus Magazine.
February 5, 2009 <http://www.stylusmagazine.com/articles/movie_
Harrold, Stanley. "Abolitionist Movement." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD].
Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008.
Holden, Stephen. "Movie Review - Rabbit-Proof Fence ". The New York
Times. February 5, 2009 <http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review
Howitt, D., and J. Owsus-Bempah. The racism of psychology: Time for a
change. London: Harvester and Wheatsheaf, 1994.
Johanson, MaryAnn. "Rabbit-Proof Fence (review)". Flick Filosopher. February
Olsen, Danielle. "Dividing Australia: The story of the rabbit-proof fence".
Things Magazine. February 5, 2009 <http://www.thingsmagazine.net/text