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When the black lady sang

11 March 2014 | Maureen O'Brien

Deborah Cheetham onstageSoprano Deborah Cheetham was in her 30s when she was reunited with her birth mother. It was the beginning of her understanding of herself as a Yorta Yorta woman and member of the Stolen Generations. At the time she was in the throes of composing her opera, Pecan Summer, based on the 1939 protests by Aboriginals from the Cummeragunja Mission. She soon learned that the story was closer to her than she had realised.

Transcendent ordeal of an outback pilgrim

05 March 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Mia Wasikowska and a camel in TracksRobyn Davidson's trek in 1978, 2700km overland from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with only four camels and a dog for company, is the stuff of legend. Her physical ordeal takes her also to the jagged ends of her emotional and mental being, as she is pestered by tourists, for whom 'the camel lady' is already a living legend, and by paparazzi, who assail her at her most frayed. There is no missing the spiritual dimensions of her journey.

Senior citizen's road trip to dignity

26 February 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Bruce Dern gestures emphatically in NebraskaWoody surely has dementia, which would explain his certainty that a sweepstakes flyer stating that he has won $1 million is authentic. While one son would prefer to put Woody in a home, the other, David, agrees to honour his wish to cross state lines to claim his fictitious winnings. Woody is aware of his own dwindling physical and mental agency, and understands that the small gifts of dignity afforded to him by David are not small at all.

AIDS outlaw battles Big Pharma

19 February 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Matthew McConaughey with handlebar moustache and cowboy hat, and Jared Leto in drag, in a scene from Dallas Buyers ClubHomophobic Texan electrician Ron learns he has AIDS and may have only 30 days to live. Desperate for a cure, he heads to Mexico, where a disgraced doctor treats him with unapproved pharmaceutical drugs. Ron begins to smuggle the drugs into the US, to distribute to other AIDS sufferers, including Rayon, a trans woman who becomes Ron's friend, business partner, and ally against the Big Pharma interests that try to shut him down.

The empathy revolution

13 February 2014 | Barry Gittins and Jen Vuk

Cover of Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution features the title Empathy in colourful block letters against a field of whiteWhile realpolitik can drive us beyond a healthy scepticism to cynicism and indifference, British cultural thinker Roman Krzaric contends that when we look beyond the real — through imagination, creativity, vulnerability and networking — we can bring about the ideal of 'empathy on a mass scale to create social change' and even go about 'extending our empathy skills to embrace the natural world'. Without dreamers like Krzaric, we're stuffed.

A distasteful slice of gender politics pie

1 Comment
12 February 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Kate Winslet entrapped by Josh Brolin's arm in Labor DayAdele is a single mother suffering the debilitating after-effects of past trauma. But her story offers no robust consideration of mental illness. In stark contrast to her male counterparts, Adele is merely pitiable and helpless, and lacks the agency to raise herself from despondency. Weakness is thus conflated with femaleness. Only the arrival of a strong, practical and violent man serves to raise her Adele from her stupor.

Pilger's cheap shots won't ease Indigenous oppression

05 February 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Aboriginal man with Uluru in the background, from the Utopia movie posterRabble-rousing Australian journalist John Pilger is prone to hyperbole. He refers to a 'concentration camp' located on Rottnest Island and proceeds to denounce the atrocities that occurred there. He conducts a vox pop amid flag-waving Australia Day revellers, goading them with questions about the white invasion with predictably cringe-worthy results. He may have good intentions, but he's not doing Aboriginal Australia any favours.

Cardinal sins in beautiful Rome

29 January 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Toni Servillo in the Great BeautyThe cardinal is senseless to the libertine Jep's enquiries about faith, and prone to missing ordinary human connections in the midst of his politicking and self-obsession. If this is an unflattering reflection of institutional Catholicism, it finds its counterpoint in an ancient nun known as the Saint, whose humility reveals to Jep the possibility of transcendence.

The joke is on Wall Street

22 January 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Jonah Hill and Leonard DiCaprio embrace and laugh in The Wolf of Wall Street

If ultimately Belfort's comeuppance for his innumerable evils is modest, and his lessons remain unlearned, it is deeply and frighteningly ironic, in a way that has parallels in the real world. The global financial crisis resulted precisely from the kind of unbridled amorality that the characters in The Wolf of Wall Street gleefully embrace. Money is their morality. Lives are left battered and bruised, but the Wall Street party keeps raging on.

Best of 2013: Sex and power in football and politics

09 January 2014 | Barry Gittins and Jen Vuk

Cover of Anna Krien's 'Night Games' features a naked female mannequin holding a football in front of its pelvic regionA young writer has crash tackled the ugly questions of non-consensual sex, coercion and the male privilege and misuse of power that can flow from sporting success. Yet when it comes to our football codes — let alone our political arena — a conversation needs to move beyond gender name-calling or the 'us and them' polemic.

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