Mitchell Stanley: “It is the history of the Aborigines as told by Aborigines.”

Servant or Slave is one of the “in competition” films of this 14th FIFO. Meeting Mitchell Stanley, producer of this Australian documentary.


Upsetting, moving, sometimes ironic, often harsh… It is a film that does not leave you indifferent. For almost an hour, Servant or Slave gives voice to five Aboriginal women. All have been victims of abuses by white men, Australians who did not consider them to be human beings. Nearly three generations of Aborigines, men and women, are separated from their families and placed in homes in order to become, one day, the servants of wealthy property owners. Others will work in the fields without ever being paid. Servant or Slave highlights these testimonials and tells about the Aborigines’ ongoing fight to obtain recognition of the discriminations and injustices of which they have been victims.


FIFO: The film’s testimonials are powerful. Was it difficult to access and meet these women?


The five women in the film are from three different families. One of them, Violet West, is a member of my family. I was able to meet the other women through cousins, friends, or acquaintances. In reality, many Aboriginal women have suffered abuse. There are also men, but we preferred to highlight the women’s community because few people know their stories. To make the film stronger, we kept only five stories. We could see that three generations were impacted by this story. From the 30s to the 50s, until 1969.


FIFO: What made it possible to put an end to these abuses?


The 1975 anti-discrimination law, voted in Parliament. Before that date, the Aborigines were classified as fauna and flora. My mother is Anglo-French, my father is Aboriginal. He was born with this status. Me, I am the first generation to be regarded as a human being. 


FIFO: As an Aborigine and a Westerner, was it vital to make this film?


I have a foot in both worlds. I am a witness. My skin is fair, so I see racism without experiencing it. My brothers and sisters whose skins are darker, are victims of racism. So my role was to make this film.


FIFO: You wanted to convey a message with this film?
Yes, but I do not think that everyone has accepted it. While certain aspects of the documentary have been accepted, others, such as the stolen wages, have not. The Government has never paid any compensation. Only one partial payment has been made in Wales. This is an ongoing fight. In Queensland and Western Australia, victims have filed collective lawsuits. But society is still unaware of the problem. You can see it through the social networks. Many people in the indigenous community post messages, asking the Aborigines to ignore this wage issue, because it is old and goes back 200 years to the time of the navigator James Cook. But this is not true. The film shows that this is a recent story.


FIFO: Was this film difficult to achieve?


We cried a lot… We did the interviews before writing the script. Then the director shot the film. During these moments, the committee was restricted. Just a few people were present, especially the co-producer. A female presence who helped to put everyone at ease. In all, it took two years of preparation and six months of filming.


FIFO: Is it important that such a film be selected for the FIFO?


Yes, very important. Even if this is the first time I take part in it, I know that the FIFO is a platform for indigenous directors. It is a festival that has a great reputation. Not only it reaches audiences throughout Oceania, but it provides a means to share experiences between the people of Oceania. So, I think that the FIFO is important to my film.


FIFO: Did you show your movie to the protagonists?


Yes. Initially, it caused trauma, then for some of them it was as if a weight had been taken off their shoulders. This is the case, for example, of Valerie who was a rape victim. They are grateful to finally be able to speak about it. This is why we did not meet the “torturers”; because it is not their story, it is the story of these Aboriginal women. Too long, we were told the story by Australians. This time, it is the opposite: it is the history of the Aborigines as told by Aborigines.