Miranda Tapsell – Challenge Accepted

Neil Patrick Harris would be proud. The legen… wait-for-it… dary Barney Stinson persona that Harris wore so well in How I Met Your Mother has been taken up by none other than – Larrakia actress Miranda Tapsell. How you ask?

One of Stinson’s most popular gimmicks was to accept any and all challenges. Even when best mates Ted, Marshall, Robin, and Lily, had no idea that a challenge had even been asked of him. That is exactly the type of challenge that Miranda has so clearly taken up – one that almost no one else (aside from every other Aboriginal person) realises needs to be completed, and at some stage Miranda must have stood up in a defiant Stinson fashion and shouted, “Challenge Accepted”.

Miranda burst onto the scene as Cynthia in Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires – the successful stage play turned successful film that swept the AACTA Awards that year with eleven wins. Her performance in the film led to her continued to growth as an actress with bit parts in TV series, culminating in a recurring role as Martha Tennant on the Nine Network series Love Child. In 2015, Miranda won a Logie Award for Best New Talent and The Graham Kennedy Award for Most Outstanding Newcomer for her role on the popular series. Tapsell was also a series regular in Secret City (2016), Newtons Law (2017), and Doctor Doctor (2018). While the proud Larrakia woman has been consistently busy, it is her 2019 works that will define her career.

Let’s set the scene: Comedians Kate McLennon and Kate McCartney have been a staple on ABC Comedy for years, and in 2019 they wrapped up their hugely successful satire of morning breakfast television, Get Crack!n. In the final episode, regular hosts McLennon and McCartney are sidelined by medical emergencies, forcing  guests Miranda Tapsell and equally Stinson-esque, challenge accepting Gamillaroi and Torres Straight Islander actress and playwright Nakkiah Lui to test their morning show hosting abilities. In an attempt to keep the “show” running smoothly and to not screw up this rare opportunity of having two Indigenous women hosting a breakfast show, the pair attempt to humorously brush over issues that Indigenous Australians face on a daily basis. These issues however, are not humorous at all and trying to talk to non-Indigenous people about them often ends in an argument. They do not want to hear about Indigenous incarceration rates (especially the overrepresentation of Indigenous women in prison), the stolen generation, invasion, intergenerational trauma, or racism.

Towards the end of the episode, and after trying to so hard to keep quiet and just follow the norm (all the while, the make-up team keep applying more and more white onto her face), Miranda explodes with the following speech while she and Nakkiah are hosting a panel of all white “experts”.

Fuck the fuck up. What do you dickmonkeys know about racism?” she asks. “Ill tell you about racism, because I’ve been living with racism since the moment I shot out of my mum. 30 years of trying to be who they want me to be Nakkiah, but its never good enough is it? Because there’s something about us that they’ll never accept. What is it? If only I could put my little black finger on it. I’m just racking my big black brain. 30 years of smiling and making big eyes and not showing my anger. I’m done, not being angry. I am angry. And if you don’t like me being angry, then by all means Australia take this furious baton and run this race for me. Because we are dying in infancy, we are dying in custody and we are dying decades earlier than you, and you, should be as angry about that as I am. Stop being angry about families fleeing warzones, and schools for teaching kids properly about sex and their bodies, and anything else these bullshit shows tell you to be angry about so they can fill a talk break. Be angry at what is happening to us, to me, so I’m not the only one shouting. But you know what? Until you do that, fuck all of this shit.

While those words may be delivered in an almost humorous way, I can assure you, they have meaning. They’re not funny in the slightest to Aboriginal people, they’re delivered this way to give people who are generally uncomfortable hearing these sorts of things a way to listen without feeling guilty or upset. At the very least they’re enough to get the likes of Andrew Bolt riled up. Bolt had the gall to blame this sort of satire for stoking ‘race wars’ throughout Australia, conveniently forgetting that he is one of the biggest perpetrators of hate speech in this country. He has already been found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act, and to add to Bolt’s hypocrisy, he frequently claims he should be allowed to say what he pleases because of ‘free speech’, while consistently condemning the speech of others who don’t share his views.

Many Caucasian people still believe racism doesn’t even exist at all – if they don’t experience it, then it simply does not exist, or they falsely believe that reverse racism is a thing. One time while I was at work, I was in conversation with an elderly man, telling him that I was looking for work back around where I grew up and I had an opportunity on the horizon in Ceduna. His response was “there’s too many dirty Abo’s there”. Another time I was walking my dog, she looks very similar to a Dingo, and another elderly man mistook her for one completely. He pulled me up from my walk and asked to pat her, all the while recounting a story from his younger years. It was extremely disturbing. He told me how he grew up in Alice Springs and he and his friends used to take Dingo pups and train them to attack Aboriginal people. The way they did this was to “put them into a sack with old Abo clothes that they stole and kick it, starve it and beat it until it got used to the smell of the old Abo’s”. I was sickened by the story and walked away in shock. The man told me that story as if it was nothing. His racist nature was so ingrained in him that it was just a normal chat.

Through Get Crack!n, Miranda and Nakkiah bring these issues to the surface in such a way that may possibly open a door for people to listen. It really is quite brilliant. It also challenges a few of the mainstream morning shows that seem to want to get involved in Indigenous issues without actually including any Indigenous people, or anyone with any expertise in any of these matters.

Miranda Tapsell is a double-edged sword.

While she is brave enough to get up in front of the cameras and call it how she sees it, while also stating exactly it how it should be from behind the camera.

In Miranda’s latest film, Top End Wedding, which Tapsell co-wrote, she plays Lauren, a lawyer, and a bloody good one at that, making associate in the first ten minutes of the film. An associate lawyer is a great character for Tapsell to portray, creating an fantastic character for Aboriginal people to see on screen, an educated, successful and financially secure, proud woman. Top End Wedding is such a positive film in relation to Indigenous people and culture, its importance in Australian history is undeniable.

Aboriginal culture is a large part of the film and the positive way in which culture is portrayed is fantastic. In most films and TV shows Aboriginal people are written to be criminals, or substance abusers, or living in low socio-economic areas, or feature in films based in newly-colonised Australia where they are victims of cruel circumstances. In Top End Wedding, being Aboriginal seems to be the norm and isn’t questioned by anyone – it’s great to see, feeling refreshing, exciting, and empowering. I’ve worked in retail for the last 13 years and I’ve had my identity questioned by customers regularly over the years. Why are my eyes dark? Why am I tanned? Where am I from? Do I celebrate Christmas? What ‘percent’ am I? Firstly, this is none of their business, but it highlights how everyday white Australians believe it is their ‘right’ to know my ‘right’ to be in their country.

The aspect I loved absolutely about Top End Wedding is that there is no racism in the film. Aboriginal people should be allowed to see themselves on screen without being racially abused. I don’t recall ever seeing a film with Aboriginal actors or Indigenous themes in which race wasn’t made a conscious factor in a negative way. Aboriginal culture was made a huge part of this film, and it’s all presented in a positive way. I had the privilege to speak to the stars of the film, Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee, prior to the films release. On the process of making more Aboriginal films, Miranda said:

On this film I felt like there was a lot riding on my shoulders, to make sure that it was honest and authentic, and we got it right. But I think the reason that I push for more facets of the Indigenous experience to be shown is because I then can tell the stories I want to tell, and people know it’s not reflective of the whole Aboriginal experience. And this is what I hope for, that a lot of Aboriginal people watch this film, that a lot of non-Aboriginal people watch this film and they find something that resonates with them. I also want people to see this film and go OK well that’s, I mean this is a very specific story and that’s great too. Then the Warwick Thornton’s of the world can make Sweet Country and that be a valid story and there’s more of them and we can show more than one part of ourselves.

As an aspiring screenwriter myself, I loved hearing this. I believe that films can be used to tell all kinds of stories to help integrate Aboriginal culture into modern society. To merge both reality and fiction into one entity to help further peoples understanding of Aboriginal people and issues that we face daily, and I feel what Miranda said reinforces that.

I also asked Gwilym about what he learnt about Aboriginal people and culture during filming, he summed up his experiences with the following, which I really enjoyed hearing:

Coming here and speaking to Aboriginal people everywhere we went, kind of just gave me a different perspective that I try to take with me wherever I am really. Even in the kind of cold, dark, city of London.

The rest of what he said was also quite genuine and I felt he really resonated with Aboriginal culture and was able to take away some positive lessons.

Miranda has been pushing for change for quite some time now, using her speech after winning her Logie in 2015 to call for more diversity on Australian screens. Later that year on The Verdict, she revisited the topic, and when asked is she identified as Australian by Karl Stefanovic she answered ‘no’, saying:

When I go to Australia Day, I don’t feel Australian on that day because essentially people are telling me a cant be a part of that.

After her comments on the show social media was lit up with people claiming to be “offended” by her words. Racial and derogatory terms were thrown around for weeks and it only proved what she had been saying all along. Oh, the irony. Adding another experience of my own, in 2016 I was on my way to volunteer at an Invasion Day event when I pulled up at some stop lights. A car full of teenagers pulled up next to me and when the light finally turned green, they yelled “boong” quite aggressively at me and then sped off. When this is a daily event, it’s hard not to see why Indigenous people don’t feel Australian, or want to identify as ‘Australian’.

‘Aboriginal Leader’ is a term that is thrown around by mainstream media at times, it usually isn’t the correct term to use in the context they mean, and I suspect they know that, but that is what Miranda is. She is a leader and a role model to all Aboriginal people. She is pushing for change for all Aboriginal people, and for Australia as a whole. I suspect this will prove to be one of the greatest challenges she will ever face, but I am surely glad that someone of her calibre has accepted it.

Travis Akbar

Travis grew up on the west coast of South Australia and has been interested in film since seeing Jurassic Park and Predator for the first time in the mid-nineties. Particularly fond of the action and thriller genres, he met his long-time idol, Jean Claude Van Damme, in 2016, talking with 'the muscles from Brussels' about his upcoming films and the hurdles he has faced in the entertainment industry. Some of his favourite films include Jurassic Park, The Salton Sea, Apt Pupil and Any Given Sunday. Travis loves the way a film can make people feel such a diverse range of emotions, from excitement and happiness to fear and sadness. He believes that creativity is what helps the world evolve and that the arts, is the centre of creativity.

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