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ABORIGINAL HORROR ANTHOLOGY DARK PLACE EXPLORES THE TERROR OF THE INDIGENOUS EXPERIENCE IN AUSTRALIA


BLACKFELLA WHITEFELLA DEADFELLA


BY SEAN PLUMMER


ustralia has a hardy horror movie tradition going back to the ’70s, with Aussie filmmakers tackling missing schoolgirls (1975’s Picnic at Hanging Rock ), nature in revolt (1978’s Long Weekend), killer hogs (1984’s Razorback), serial killers of the Outback (2005’s Wolf Creek), and storybook monsters come to life (2014’s The Babadook). All have a particular antipodean twist, and all were made by white Australians. Movies about so-called “Blackfellas” (the informal term used in Australian English to refer to Indigenous Australians) made by Blackfellas, however, have until now been primarily the province of social realism, documentary and comedy, but a new five- part horror anthology Dark Place aims to change that. Written and directed entirely by Aboriginal Australians, the film decon- structs (and disembowels) facets of the post-colonial Aboriginal experience in its segments, including missing Black women (“Scout”), identity politics (“Foe”), cultural fetishism (“Vale Light”), assimilation (“The Shore”), and colonial foundation myths (“Killer Native”).


A


“It felt like now was the right time to move Aboriginal storytelling into the horror space,” says producer Majhid Heath, who oversaw the project. “Aboriginal filmmak- ers have had so much success in other genres, it just felt like now is the right time to give horror fans a new take on the genre. It seemed like a natural progression after Aboriginal dystopian sci-fi, Aboriginal west- erns, and Aboriginal musicals.” To that end, Heath and co-producer


Hayley Johnson paired five young writer/directors with a modest budget to see their stories realized, and filming took place in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Their instructions were simple: “Just to write something that’ll scare us,” says Heath. “Interestingly, all the filmmakers wrote screenplays that terrified, not by jump scares but rather about what it means to be a young Blackfella in Australia – the dread and the battle for a voice and identity.”


Kodie Bedford’s opening story “Scout” sees the titular Black woman (Katherine Beckett) take revenge against the men who kidnapped and sold her into sexual slavery. It’s a horrific rallying cry against what Heath calls the “unspoken” problem of missing and murdered Aboriginal women – a situation that should resonate equally with Canadians. “Culturally, we all know this is happening, but because of the historically fraught relationship Blackfellas have with police, most of these cases go unreported,” he explains. “Kodie Bedford has said she wanted to bring this issue into focus but wanted to ensure that Aboriginal women were no longer victimized onscreen for entertainment. Without speaking for Black women in Australia, the representation of Aboriginal women by white filmmakers has been nothing but (and continues to be) quite exploitative. Aboriginal suffering is trauma porn for the white Australian masses. Kodie wanted to turn that on its head. She also wanted to create a kick-ass Aboriginal her- oine who won’t take shit no more.” The closing story, Bjorn Stewart’s “Kill- er Native,” sees young settlers Sally (Lily Sullivan) and Thomas (Charlie Garber) be- ing warned by a Blackfella (Clarence Ryan) about a ghoul stalking the countryside. It’s a broadly comic but vicious riff on the zom- com subgenre that takes aim at the myth of how Australia was settled. (The “ghoul,” for instance, is actually an Aboriginal infected with smallpox by an English settler.) “White Australia does not like to have its foundation myths (lies) challenged,” says Heath. “The country suffers from collective


Killer Native Scout


amnesia when challenged about it. It’s bizarre! There’s been a lot of hand- wringing about Australian colonial history in the culture wars in Australia over the last couple of decades. So it felt apt that a Blackfella needed to tell our story a different way to open white Australia’s eyes and hearts to our experiences, as comedy offers a way to come in from the side and still have a sting in the tail. Either way, it was a useful way to get into a rollicking zombie schlock splatterfest!”


Ph: Meg White


Ph: Nicola Bell


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