Rabbit Proof Fence: Film Analysis

639 words | 3 page(s)

The intent of Rabbit Proof Fence is beyond that of mere film: the director here intends to communicate a social and political message. Namely, he wants to challenge the preconceptions that allowed racist discourses and narratives to inform and shape our social structures and organizations. In this sense, the work is a form of social criticism: what are the norms by which we truly want to organize our society?

The narrative of Rabbit Proof Fence, from the perspective of basic human empathy, clearly evokes outrage: the planned separation of children from parents, based on a concept of “half-caste”, which means children having one white and one aborigine parent, violates our most fundamental concept of human rights. Despite such immediate reactions, however, deeper questions appear: how do such discourses concerning race become so dominant that they are carried out in a systematic order on a legal level? Certainly, the reaction here, therefore, changes: races discourses and racist policies have existed throughout human history. It is only in the contemporary error, for example, in the United States, after the Civil Rights movement and before that the Civil War, where such racist discourses came to be questioned: from this historical perspective, the reaction to the events of the film therefore begin to reflect a racist discourse that was something to the effect of a historical norm.

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Rabbit Proof Fence wants to show the presence of this historical norm, and then challenge it. For example, in the film it becomes clear that Australians themselves thought they were helping with this policy: they were treating half-white Australian children as whites instead of aborigines. Therefore, they were affording them the privileges of the dominant white caste in Australian society, even though this meant the destruction of families. However, there is a clear preconception in this approach: namely, by believing such a policy truly helped, one does not challenge the more fundamental preconception at work in this scenario, that is, why is society — and Australian society more particularly – structured according to divisions along racial lines? Is this preconception not the true object of criticism, namely, the director wishes to say that by challenging this preconception one is truly helping these children, as opposed to merely subscribing to a racist discourse that structures Australian society as a whole.

The gaze here is precisely this type of misrecognition of what is ethically correct to do. In the film, Neville’s solution to separate the children from their families, is only the result of the initial premise that the aboriginal “blood” is something undesired and something to be bred out of existence. What is viewed as the ethically correct act is thus ultimately equivalent to a concept of prolonged genocide. The gaze in this sense is the structure of the society, whereby one understands their identities according to identities that this society has itself promoted: one sees themselves as white, or as aborigine, and acts according to the determined roles of these “races.”

This is thus equivalent to a concept of ethnocentrism which the director of the film tries to bring to the fore: only through such ethnocentric concepts, i.e., that the white Australian race is the desirable race, and all others are undesirable, can such acts come to be legitimated.

The director’s challenge is thus to show these conceptual errors, in terms such as gaze and ethnocentrism, and therefore force individuals to re-think the norms they take to be self-evident. Social criticism aims to show the unethical position of these norms, even though these norms take themselves to be ethical, such as in the film. This complicates the challenge of subverting these norms, but also shows why such films are necessary: to help us confront the deep-rooted prejudices in all their forms that have historically structured our social relations and in this way overcome them.

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