John Seven | Viewer’s Discretion: Moffatt's short films now available to stream
'NIGHT CRIES: A RURAL TRAGEDY' AND 'NICE COLOURED GIRLS' (OVIDTV)
Australian artist Tracy Moffatt is best known for her photography that relates to her own experience as the child of a white father and black Aboriginal mother. Earlier in her career, she made pivotal and relevatory short films that are now easier to access through streaming.
"Nice Coloured Girls" features condescending accounts from the first white sailors about their encounters with Aboriginal Australians — in particular, women — and juxtaposes those words with footage of three young Aboriginal women out for a night on the town. As they enter a bar and the evening continues, Moffatt films their interaction with a white man, obviously playing him for a free night out, while overlaying the scenes with written words describing what's happening from the women's point of view, as well as further recitations from sailor's journals.
In historical terms, Aboriginals were cast in sexualized and opportunistic tones as animalistic swindlers out to get something from the white men. As the camera follows the women's evening with the white men, it becomes apparent the level of racial grooming that has gone on through history and the way it has been turned around and weaponized. Aboriginal women have been forced into a role, but they use their exploitation to seize what power is possible for them. It's a sly representation of how racist patterns are created in history and repeated, and how degradation is formalized into an aspect of retaliation.
The two characters in "Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy" don't speak a word and the desert setting is silent as well, but the noise that ensues from the resentment an Aboriginal woman feels for her adoptive white mother is a cacophony of unsettling rage. The mother, wheelchair-bound and mostly helpless, is under the care of the daughter, whose every action is punctuated by anger and memories of a life of displacement. Moffatt makes the audience feel displaced also with vivid colors that make the scene seem otherworldly, and the sound design work that is reminiscent of the best of David Lynch, but even more intrusive and expressive.
A reaction to the Australian policy of assimilation during the 1950s and early 60s, which saw Aboriginal children removed from their homes and placed with white families, Moffatt presents a scenario where the child becomes the servant. This simple narrative is transformed into a poetry of piercing emotion that captures the fate of a generation of Aboriginal children.
'THE VICTIM' (BRITBOX)
Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald is a wonderfully appealing performer, but let's be honest, she always kind of plays Kelly Macdonald. That's a good thing, though, because it lends an instant personality to her characters. That's a pretty important factor in the four-part British series "The Victim," in which Macdonald plays the mother of a young boy who was brutally murdered. You would think that's a part that creates its own sympathy, but "The Victim" is a complex character study and a thoughtful examination of our concepts of victimhood, punishment and rehabilitation.
Craig Myers (James Harkness) is a normal guy with a wife and a kid who was viciously attacked in his house on Halloween. During the police investigation, it is discovered that someone has posted his photo online and claimed that he is the teen murderer who killed Macdonald's son, now grown up with a new identity. As the police trace the online photo to Macdonald, an investigation begins about her culpability in the actual crime, while accusations fly that Myers is, in fact, the killer despite his denial.
As the bereaved mother Anna Dean, Macdonald channels her inner sweetness and turns it somewhat sinister, offering a portrait of an obsessed person who cannot step back from vengeance. There's a central question the series asks, though — even if Craig Myers turns out to be a child killer, does he deserve vigilante justice? Does it matter who he is?
Part detective thriller, part courtroom drama and part family drama, "The Victim" manages to mix its elements in a compelling way and explore its ideas with appealing maturity and sympathy.
John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me.
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