Black Chicks Talking

(Leah Purcell, Australia, 2002)


Leah Purcell’s Black Chicks Talking project encompasses a book, a portrait series, a play, a multimedia exhibition and this television documentary. That may be stretching the raw material a little thinly, but nonetheless there are some captivating and moving testimonies collected here.

Five Aboriginal women – Deborah Mailman (actor), Kathryn Hay (former Miss Australia), Rosanna Angus (community warden), Tammy Williams (lawyer) and Cilla Malone (mother) – meet up with Purcell for dinner and a freewheeling chat. The wine flows, jokes are cracked, and the camera rather irritatingly spins in the middle of the table.

Purcell, who includes a few too many shots of herself reacting thoughtfully to her subjects, is on the track of Aboriginal identity. Is it a question of skin colour, of cultural affiliation, or of close ties to land and community? The documentary adopts a militantly open-minded attitude, coming down on the side of pride and strength wherever and however it is expressed.

Somewhat in the Oprah Winfrey style of a motivational chat show, this fifty-minute film mercifully fleshes itself out with glimpses into the daily lives of its subjects. Its best parts are devoted to accounts of history and tributes to the value of family.

Although Black Chicks Talking touches on issues of racism and the trauma of the Stolen Generations, it is not a particularly political work. Its emphasis is on ‘personal journeys’, all of which contain highs and lows.

A fine archival moment arrives when Williams is shown, as a teenager, hanging out with Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley at a "youth summit". The mind boggles.

MORE Australian indigenous films: Whispering In Our Hearts, Nice Coloured Girls, Night Cries, Bedevil, Beneath Clouds, The Tracker, Ten Canoes, Rabbit-Proof Fence

© Adrian Martin August 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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