Set in 1968, The Sapphires is based on the true story of four Indigenous Australian singers. Sisters Cynthia, Gail and Julie (Miranda Tapsell, Deborah Mailman and Jessica Mauboy) leave their family in the country after being discovered by Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd). Together with Dave, the girls and their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) head for Melbourne to audition for a job entertaining the American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. Calling themselves the Sapphires, they arrive in Saigon. Here they are confronted by the contrast between the vibrant and buzzing city and the surrounding horrors of war.
The girls’ talent shines, and they move from performing in bars to performing for the soldiers on various army bases. As they travel through the Vietnamese country side and within combat zones, the girls and Dave all learn about life, love and identity.
Here we outline any topics, issues and ideas in this movie that might upset children and adolescents, so that you can gauge whether it is appropriate for your child. For example, children and adolescents may react adversely to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, separation from a parent, animal cruelty or distress, children as victims, natural disasters and racism.
War and death; racism and discrimination; alcohol dependence
Here we identify any violence in this movie, and explain how and why it might impact on your child or adolescent. In general, movie violence can make children less sensitive to the use of violence in real life. Alternatively, they may become fearful about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world. In some contexts, it can also teach them to see violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.
This movie has some violence. For example:
- Images of war show bombings and gunfire. Some scenes show bodies of dead soldiers and civilians, as well as damage to buildings, houses and the countryside.
- Injured soldiers are shown in hospital beds. Some soldiers have amputations, eye patches and significant injuries.
- Gail and Kay have a physical fight. They hit each other across the face. Both end up with cuts on their lips.
- Dave and the girls travel through Vietnam without a military escort. They’re stopped by local militias who aim guns at them.
- Key events from 1958-1968 are shown. These include JFK’s assassination, boxing matches featuring Lionel Rose and Mohammed Ali and images of war.
- Television images show Martin Luther King’s assassination and the resulting riots.
- While sitting in helicopters, the girls see the body bags of dead soldiers.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight years. For example:
- A character catches a fish and uses a knife to cut open its stomach.
- In a flashback scene, government officials arrive at the girls’ home. The family frantically orders the children to run and hide. Images of distraught family members are shown after one child is taken away as part of the Stolen Generation.
Children in this age group might also be disturbed by the scenes that show a child being taken away and the distress of her family.
Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this movie.
This movie has some sexual references. For example:
- A woman is called ‘sweetcheeks’.
- Dave tells Gail that the girls’ dresses need to show more ‘cleavage’.
- Cynthia often talks about the ‘sexy soldiers’ and implies that she wants to sleep with them.
- Julie has a child, although she’s still a teenager.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie shows some use of substances. For example:
- Characters often drink alcohol in pubs, bars, home parties and army camps. The girls drink from glasses, and sometimes they swig from bottles. Dave often seems drunk and hung over the next day. After a heavy night of drinking, he agrees to travel with the girls through Vietnam without a military escort. This isn’t what the girls and their families want.
- Although drugs aren’t shown, getting ‘stoned’ is mentioned in Saigon and in the army camps.
- Many characters are shown smoking.
Nudity and sexual activity
This movie has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- Dave is caught sleeping in his car in his underwear. He then walks from the car to the pub without pants on.
- Cynthia lies on a man and kisses him passionately. When he gets up, he does up his zipper.
- Girls dance in bikinis in a bar in Saigon.
- Dave and Gail kiss passionately.
None of concern
This movie has some coarse language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
The Sapphires is based on the real-life story of four courageous Indigenous Australian women. In an era of significant racial discrimination, they used their singing talents to entertain American soldiers in Vietnam. The movie is entertaining, and the story has a lot for older children to talk about. But there are themes and disturbing scenes that make it unsuitable for younger children under 10-11 years.
The main messages from this movie focus on identity and the importance of family and Indigenous tradition.
For example, all the girls appreciate the closeness of their extended family and learn to understand their role in their group. Gail understands her role as ‘mumma bear’, looking out for her younger siblings and cousin. She realises this is connected to the guilt she carries from her childhood, when she couldn’t protect Kay from being taken away by government officials. Kay has lived in both the indigenous and ‘white’ worlds and has to decide where her heart belongs.
Dave also finds a new sense of identity along the journey. To begin with, he feels that he has failed in his life as a musician and husband. This is why he drinks so much and wastes his life. Gail forces him to confront these ‘failures’, and he realises that there are more important things to work for.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include strength, courage and determination.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues such as the following:
- Discrimination: the sisters and black soldiers in Vietnam face racial discrimination.
- Alcoholism: Dave’s excessive drinking puts the girls in a dangerous situation when he agrees to travel without a military escort.
- The Stolen Generation: what is the impact of the Stolen Generation’s experiences in the 1960s and also in contemporary Australia?