Jedda Feature Article

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Jedda: Racist Relic or Ahead of its Time?

Jedda: Fifty years ago the movie Jedda broke new ground in its portrayal of the indigenous inhabitants of this land. Andre Greenhalgh examines its rich legacy.

In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, government, Charitable and church groups moved many mixed-race children into orphanages and in some cases helped adopt them into white families. It was felt that part-white children could be integrated into white society. Some Aboriginal and part-Aboriginal parents gave up their children voluntarily; some children were taken by force. About 15% of children are thought removed from their parents in this time. Jedda (1955) was notable for its position as the first movie to be released in Australia in full colour. Jedda was a well-respected movie, as it demonstrated lack of Racism, by incorporating Aboriginal actors to play the parts of indigenous folk. It won more international attention than previous Australian films, during a time when Hollywood films were dominating the Australian cinema. (Wikipedia, 2012) Jedda premiered at Darwin's Star Theatre on January 3, 1955, to an audience divided by race and class. The Aboriginal stars, Ngarla Kunoth in the title role and Robert Tudawali as the leading man, Marbuck, were with the silvertails upstairs from where they looked down on the seating known as "the blacks".

Determined to tell a story that could be told only in Australia by Australians, Charles Chauvel made Jedda—-the first Australian feature film to use Aboriginal actors in the lead roles and the first to be filmed in colour. Set in the Northern Territory, it is the tragic story of a young Aboriginal girl of the Arunte tribe, adopted by a white woman, Sarah McCann, as a surrogate for her own baby who has died. She names the baby Jedda after a wild bird and raises her as a white child, isolating her from Aboriginal contact. But when Marbuck, an Aboriginal man seeking work arrives on the station, Jedda is...
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