16mm, color, 16 minutes
Tracey Moffat’s Nice Colored Girls (1987) follows three Australian Aboriginal women through one night as they encounter several white men vying to buy their attention. The film examines the historical circumstances that allow for the continued exploitation of Aboriginal women in the current day. It juxtaposes present day interactions between the three women and a white John (the “captain”) with a strange narration—the reading of an early European colonialist’s journal. The journal speaks of the European man’s first interactions with Aboriginal women at the time of Australia’s colonization, and yet accurately describes the night occurring in the present. It seems to be impossible for the women to escape the eerily prophetic ‘fate’ set down by the journal. Similarly, the modern cityscape in which the present day Aboriginal women live is periodically contrasted with shots of the natural Australian outback, as inhabited by the modern women’s mothers and grandmothers. The scenery has changed, yet the women inhabiting two times are intrinsically linked. These two techniques in narration and story telling effectively compress time in the story, presenting instead a timeless and seemingly unbreakable image of exploitation, in which the state of being an Aboriginal woman is fundamentally linked to one of being a prostitute.
The story of the three women is presented in subtitles at the bottom of the screen and is seemingly the result of interviews with the women that have been conducted off screen. This is an interesting choice on Moffat’s part; she denies the women a vocal part of the film, illustrating their customary marginalization, yet she provides them with another forum in which to communicate (and the film of course is also dedicated to telling their story). However, as the credits indicate at the end of the film, Nice Colored Girls is not a documentary as it initially appears. It is perfectly scripted, as the women’s subtitles and the colonialist journal sync to describe the action taking place on film. Ultimately, this speaks to both the timelessness of the ahistorical Aboriginal experience and the unerring ignorance and exploitation on the part of the “captain.” With respect to him, the whole film reads like an animal planet documentary; one can envision Moffat thinking, “And here we see the captain as he stalks his prey. We will watch for his conniving moves, well documented in the historical record of his species.” However, the concluding segments of the film show the women outwitting their John and melting, as it were, into the background of the city. Although the film clearly depicts the exploitative sides of this interaction, the film ends with the women somewhat empowered, after effectively triumphing over their ‘conqueror.’ This leaves the viewer to consider the possibilities of transgression allowed to Aboriginal women even within a marginalized, oppressed role.
Women, Aborigines, Australia, Identity, Exploitation, Colonialism
A website dedicated to Australian indigenous issues. Moffat’s photography is linked here:
On Tripod, through ProQuest:
Films by Tracy Moffatt: Reclaiming First Australians’ rights, celebrating women’s rites
Cynthia Baron. Women’s Studies Quarterly. New York: Spring 2002.Vol.30, Iss. 1/2; pg. 151, 27 pgs