Morgan and Tiriki Onus, grandchildren of the acclaimed first Aboriginal filmmaker, Bill Onus, stumble across an old suitcase hidden in an attic. Inside they find numerous mysterious photos belonging to their grandfather, so they set out to find out what they mean.
Their search leads them first to the National Film Archives in Canberra where they find an unmarked, uncatalogued film made by their grandfather. In search of answers, they next journey to the mission where their grandfather was born.
At the mission they learn, from first-hand interviews and historical recounts, that their grandfather was much more than the first Aboriginal filmmaker. He was a revolutionary, determined to use his theatrical talent and camera skills to highlight the injustices endured by Aboriginal people over 200 years and to recognise and empower them.
Racial discrimination; discriminatory stereotypes; loss of culture; animal cruelty; government corruption
Ablaze has some violence. For example:
- In a boxing match an Aboriginal boxer knocks out a white man. It’s noted that this is acceptable only in the ring. In any other circumstances the Aboriginal man would have been arrested.
- There’s a description of the arrest of an Aboriginal man, who was bashed into every pole by police as he was escorted to prison. There’s also an explanation of how Aboriginal people died in custody because of police brutality.
- An Aboriginal war veteran is arrested, jailed and fined a large sum of money for fighting with a white theatre owner who refuses to sell him a ticket.
- The movie shows many gross human rights abuses. These include starving Aboriginal communities; hungry and impoverished children plagued by bed bugs; and adults and children chained together and used as cheap labour or slaves.
- Two men wrestle a cow to the ground. Another man whips at the cows.
- Aboriginal people walk off the land because they’ve been enduring terrible treatment. The police arrive and arrest some of the men at gun point. The men are chained together and taken away.
- There are images of possums and foxes hanging upside down after being killed.
- White people are allowed to wear furs as fashion, but Aboriginal tradition – of wrapping babies in possum skin cloaks and adding to the cloaks throughout life – is prohibited.
- There are images of Aboriginal communities suffering from radiation poisoning after atomic testing on their lands.
- Bill is badly injured in a car crash with a fire truck.
- The general lack of compassion toward the Aboriginal community shown throughout the film is, in itself, a sustained act of violence.
Ablaze has some sexual references. For example, there’s a reference to women and girls being exploited.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
There’s no use of substances in Ablaze.
Nudity and sexual activity
Ablaze has some nudity. For example:
- An Aboriginal baby is shown naked, about to have a bath.
- Some Aboriginal men are shown naked from behind.
- There are photos of Aboriginal men wearing only loin cloths and chains.
- There is a scene in Bill’s film that is replayed numerous times. It shows him and some other young men wearing something like underwear with paint on their chests, faces and legs.
The following products are displayed or used in Ablaze: an Apple laptop is used, and its logo is clearly displayed on various occasions.
Ablaze has some coarse language, including ‘bastard’.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Ablaze is a revealing documentary that depicts the struggles of an extraordinary man who fought for the rights of his people throughout his life. The past and present are woven seamlessly together through interviews, photos, present-day footage and long-lost film clips. The result is a story about a very dark time in Australia’s past and about the men and women who fought for justice and equal rights and refused to give up.
These are the main messages from Ablaze:
- Follow your dreams and fight for what you know to be right.
- Ground yourself and know your culture.
- Walk tall and be proud of your achievements, wherever life leads you.
Values in Ablaze that you could reinforce with your children include compassion, determination, courage, ingenuity and creativity.
Ablaze could also give you the chance to talk with your children about the real-life consequences of things like:
- holding beliefs about racial superiority and using others as slaves
- deliberately killing a culture
- using violence and discrimination to oppress whole communities
- killing animals for fashion but outlawing traditional practices
- using power and influence to sabotage others.