The Sapphires DVD Cover: Racist or Clever Marketing?

There are lots of writing blogs telling us to get our book covers just right. I’ve also written a couple of posts about the mistreatment of indigenous people recently. Today they come together.

Sapphires USA DVD Cover

No, The Sapphires are not an obscure backing group for a slick and horrid in-your-face white dude dancing

The Sapphires is an Australian movie based on a true story about four talented aboriginal girls, played by Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell, who, in the 1960’s, fight racism and discrimination to become recognised as the great singers they were.

There’s been some publicity lately about the cover for the upcoming USA DVD release. It’s been labelled sexist and racist because it flies in the face of what the movie is all about. Check it out. You would be forgiven for thinking that crazy white dude in the snazzy blue suit is the main character. He, in fact, plays the girls’ manager.

On the one hand you’ve got a supporting actor who apparently is well known in the US, versus four young indigenous Australian actresses who are not. Marketing people will tell you to put the well known actor front and centre and the lesser known Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell behind. In a faded sapphire blue tint. Fine. Because the guy is well known.

The Sapphires Australian DVD Cover

The Sapphires Australian DVD Cover

On the other hand you have the four main characters who are the key to the story which itself is about breaking down the discrimination of Aboriginals, female ones at that, and shows that a bit of talent and some hard work can really pay off to achieve great success. Surely the promotion of the movie should reinforce the theme of the story and not hinder it. Maybe they should also promote the fact that it received a ten minute standing O at last year’s Canne Film Festival.

Compare the Australian DVD cover. The girls are out front. Well at least Deb and Jess are, being more well known in Australia than Shari and Miranda.

Chris O’Dowd himself, when asked what he thought of the USA DVD cover, tweeted, “It’s ridiculous, it’s misleading, it’s ill-judged, insensitive and everything the film wasn’t.”

So is the US cover racist? Sexist? Or is it really about promoting the familiar faces?

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6 thoughts on “The Sapphires DVD Cover: Racist or Clever Marketing?

  1. ericjbaker

    I think it’s a dumb cover, because it’s not about that guy. Only crappy, direct-to-video movies put the better known actor on the cover in favor of the actual stars.

    My determination: Crappy marketing.

    Reply
    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      Yeah, agreed. Although since yesterday the backlash has been so great that the distributers have issued an apology of sorts and suggested they will reconsider the cover for future releases. The assumes the first batch sell out and there is demand for a second run.
      It sounds like the marketers simnply went for the default tactic and didn’t take anything else into account. I actually think the Aussie cover should have had all four girls on equal footing out front with the dude standing behind them with his arms out as if presenting his group, the real stars, to the audience.

      Reply
  2. jmmcdowell

    Well, the US is certainly about marketing, and the recognizable name makes sense in that sense…. But the Australian version makes a heck of a lot more sense for the story. But either way, now that you’ve brought it to my attention? I want to check out the movie despite the US cover.

    Reply
  3. butimbeautiful

    Not sure. I think it’s very hard to sell Australian films to US audiences, whether they have indigenous people in them or not. So I can see the reasoning behind putting the flashy guy up front.

    Reply

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