Representation of Indigenous people

Aboriginal art panel, with Assessment caption

Assessment objective

Prepare an essay that explores the following statement:

Stuart Hall argues that “ … national identities are not things we are born with, but are formed and transformed within and in relation to representation” (The Question of Cultural Identity, p. 612).


DescAssessmentribe how a particular national (or ethnic) identity is represented in one or more screen texts. (You can choose your own or make a selection from the list below.)

Defend your opinion of whether your chosen text(s) strengthen, challenge or otherwise transform dominant (hegemonic) representations of this identity.

You might like to consider and comment on the following points:

  • Whose perspective is informing the Indigenous identity? Does the portrayal rely or use any of the following: stereotyping, iconising, mythologising?
  • Does the film employ Indigenous actors to play Indigenous people?
  • How are Indigenous roles cast (principal, lead, minor etc)?
  • What is the film’s treatment of belief systems? For example, belonging to land as opposed to land belonging to people; connection with spirit; The Dreaming as valid as ‘God’s Creation’.

Suggested films:

  • Bitter Springs, 1950: Tommy Trinder (Chips Rafferty) is called in to smooth things out when Wally King encroaches upon significant Aboriginal land.
  • Jedda, 1955: is probably Charles Chauvel’s best film, as well as his last. It is historic both for being the first colour feature film made in Australia, but more importantly, because it is arguably the first Australian film to take the emotional lives of Aboriginal people seriously;
  • Dust in the Sun, 1958: when a police officer taking an Aboriginal prisoner to trial is attacked and injured by other Aboriginal people, it sets off a tragic chain of events.
  • Come out Fighting, 1973: an Aboriginal boxer has to choose between his promising career as a boxer, his Aboriginal friends, and students campaigning for Aboriginal rights.
  • Journey among women, 1977: the setting is colonial Australia, where a judge’s daughter assists a group of female convicts, who are living in inhumane conditions, to escape. They team up with an Aboriginal girl, who shows them how to survive in the forest. When one of the women is raped and killed, the group seeks revenge.
  • The Dreaming, 1988: a doctor treats an Aboriginal person who becomes ill after visiting a sacred cave without permission. The doctor then finds herself having disturbing dreams and finds herself involved in a 200-year-old mystery.

You can find other films at


Hall, S n.d., The Question of Cultural Identity, Blackwell Publishers, viewed 7 March 2017, <>

Screen Australia 2010, The Black List: film and TV projects since 1970 with Indigenous Australians in key creative roles, Sydney, NSW.