We have recently seen two films: Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s book Little Women and the documentary, The Australian Dream, the story of indigenous footballer Adam Goodes and his stand against racism in the AFL and more broadly in Australia.
You can watch The Australian Dream on ABC iView
The documentary was scripted by Stan Grant who, along with former Sydney AFL teammate, Michael O’Loughlin, both of whom recall similar experiences and provide a moving commentary on Goodes’ experience.
Adam Goodes is an Indigenous Australian who played AFL football, the home grown and dominant football code in Australia.
He has twice won the Brownlow medal award for the best and fairest player in the entire league.
In the 90-year history of the League, three players have won this three times and eight players have won it twice. This places Goodes in the parthenon of AFL greats.
In 2014, Goodes was been named the 2014 Australian of the Year. Goodes was awarded this in recognition of his leadership and dedication to the Indigenous community.
The film documents a number of high-profile incidents in Goodes’s life when he confronted the racism that was part of his football career.
The documentary examines these incidents and provided Goodes’ commentary on them. In doing this, the film subtly but convincingly portrays a number of high-profile personalities as people who personify racism in the Australian media that so upset Adam Goodes: Eddie McGuire, Sam Newman and Andrew Bolt.
The first incident is in a match between Goodes’s the Sydney Swans and Collingwood. Goodes heard a racist taunt from the crowd and confronted the Collingwood supporter, who turned out to be a 14-year-old girl and who had called “You’re an ape, Goodes.” Goodes indicated to the security guards that he wished them to remove the young girl from the ground, which they did. Goodes later said that this was ” the face of racism in Australia”. At the time, it was immensely unpopular comment being being made about a14-year-old girl.
However, on reflection I think he was right. The girl was an example and product of her environment and upbringing where this casual and unthinking racism flourishes.
After the game, the president of the Collingwood club, TV personality Edie McGuire, came and apologised to Goodes and assured him of his support.
Next day, on talkback radio McGuire likened Goodes to King Kong. He later apologised after a media storm broke out, saying he mis-spoken. It could not have been a worse chosen and more unfortunate mistake.
The next incident also involved McGuire on the popular “Footie Show which McGuire hosts. A fellow indigenous footballer friend of Goodes, Nicky Winmar, was scheduled to appear on the show but did not turn up. One of the other members of the show, Sam Newman, left to set and returned with his face blackened saying he was standing in for Winmar.
You can view the video
To say this was embarrassingly insensitive would be an understatement. Even McGuire looked uncomfortable, but he did not tell Newman to leave the set and wash his face let Newman continue the segment as a “blackface”.
In the documentary, McGuire defended his colleague:
“He (Newman) didn’t understand the nuance. He was a product of those times,” McGuire said.
“He was a ’60s, ’70s vaudevillian who was sending up because he didn’t turn up on the show that night.”
Winmar is often referred as a pioneer for Indigenous footballers after his iconic 1993 gesture which saw him raise his shirt in front of thousands of jeering spectators saying: “I’m black – and I’m proud to be black!”
There is now a statue of Winmar and this iconic moment at the Optus Stadium in Perth.There is now a statue of Winmar and this iconic moment at the Optus Stadium in Perth.
But perhaps most famous incident was the time when Goodes confronted members of the Carlton cheer squad who had been hurling racist taunts at him during a match. In an imitation of an aboriginal war dance, Goodes ran towards the crowd threatening to throw an imaginary spear at them.
The action was to unleash a barrage of abuse directed at Goodes when he appeared on the field from then on.
Ultimately this led to the two-times Brownlow medal winner retiring from football.
In his quiet and articulate way, Goodes effectively rebuts the commentary of right-wing commentator Andrew Bolt. Bolt appears in the documentary and argues that in doing the war dance and highlighting the issues of racism in Australia, Goodes got everything he deserved when he was racially abused by successful football crowds.
In his calm, reasoned and unapologetic defence of his actions and position, Goodes stresses that the only people who really understand racism in Australia are the people who have suffered under it.
And this brings us to the film Little Women. Like the Adam Goodes documentary, Little Women shows the manifestation of another form of discrimination, the discrimination and inequality of women in the 19th century.
It stars Saoirse Ronan as Josephine “Jo” March and Timothée Chalamet as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence.
With Emma Watson as Margaret “Meg” March, Florence Pugh as Amy March, Eliza Scanlen as Elizabeth “Beth” March, Laura Dern as Marmee March
John Matteson writing in The Atlantic: Among children’s classics, Little Women is virtually unique in its lack of a personified villain. The prevalent reading of the novel is that the chief evil that must be fought and subdued is the flaw in each character’s own breast, whether Jo’s temper, Laurie’s laziness, or Beth’s shyness. While these inner struggles are amply addressed in the film, Gerwig convincingly proposes an alternative reading: A considerable source of pain in Alcott’s world is the disapproving masculine gaze, so often clad in the guise of moral judgment, that can bruise a woman’s self-esteem and steal her self-expression.
The film shows the women in the March family growing up while their father is away fighting in the Civil War (1861 – 1865). Life is not easy, they are poor and being poor means the chances of the girls being married, particularly married to money, are not good.
Marmee March is kind of woman who would receive instant beatification on arriving in heaven. She is a faultless role model for the children and when Jo asks why she is not angry, she confesses that she is angry every day of her life but does not let that take over because she knows it is totally destructive and unproductive. Because her husband is away at war, she is left with the responsibility of bringing up the children without any means of earning a living. In those days, it was rare for women to go to school and even rarer for them to have productive jobs or financial independence.
For Jo, who wishes to be an author and who has success in publishing her stories, the thought of financial independence and a life that is not reliant upon husband is the driving force in her life.
However, when she explained her desire for independence to Aunt March (Meryl Streep), her rich aunt tells her that women can’t be independent.
Jo replies to her aunt “Well, you are” to which her aunt replies “I’m rich.” The point is not lost on Jo who is poor.
Jo realises that if she were to be independent and rich as result of the writing and then were to be married, all her money would become her husband’s, she would be part of her husband’s property and have no independence whatsoever.
Jo has very close teenage relationship with Laurie, a rich, sensitive and intelligent but ultimately feckless, individual. When Laurie proposes marriage, Jo turns him down saying she knows that it wouldn’t work. He is devastated. Later, Jo changes her mind and writes to him saying she wishes to marry him. But in the meantime, Laurie has proposed to, and married her sister, Amy.
There is a beautiful scene in which Jo meets her publisher, Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts) to discuss the possible publication of her novel. He tells her that he will only publish the novel if the heroine gets married at the end of it. The heroine in the novel, of course, is Jo, and in the first draft of the book, she does not get married.
Jo tells Dashwood that marriage is an economic proposition, just as the negotiations over the publication of her book are an economic proposition. She decides to marry her heroine off at the end of the story. She then demonstrates her literary smarts by negotiating a very favourable deal with the hard-headed publisher.
Little Women is a gentle film told from the perspective of the protagonist who understands why she is in the predicament she is.
While it is a gentle film, the message of Little Women is hard edged. Women’s inequality is a result of the attitudes, of even the best of men, that are entrenched the norms of society.
And like The Australian Dream, the narrative of Little Women comes from the lives of the people who suffer the discrimination that makes them second-class citizens.
Indigenous and women’s inequality the result of the pervasive and unthinking actions of men and women who reinforce the patterns of discrimination that are deeply ingrained in the life of the Little Women and, as Adam Goodes would argue, a good proportion of the population of Australia.