Indigenous artists urge Australians to watch the This is Australia video, inspired by Childish Gambino’s viral clip, on January 26

On a swelteringly hot day in a dry field in Bunuba Country, Western Australia, rapper Noongar Bani Bagh, dressed in the colors of the Aboriginal flag, points to the camera and lines cranes that descend like slaps:

“This is Australia

See how you kill us

Lock up our children

Prisons fill them.”

Bjah’s words accompany images that reference Captain Cook, Adam Goodes, Spit Hoods, Breakfast TV, Nicky Winmar and colonial statues being toppled – in This Is Australia: A new video reimagining Childish Gambino’s viral 2018 This Is America video.

The original cut through pop culture buzz with its mix of incendiary lyrics and Images of slavery, gun violence, and police brutalityWrapped in the fun shell of a pop song.

Warning: This story contains disturbing images.

The Australian version, produced by Aboriginal multicultural dance theater company Marrugeku, focuses on incarceration – from the abuse and deaths of First Nations people in prisons (including the Don Dale and Banksia Hill youth detention centers) to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Children as young as 10 — the age of criminal responsibility in Washington — appear in the video dressed as Don Dale.

Rachel Swain, co-artistic director of Marujeko, told ABC RN’s Stop Everything! “These young children may be in juvenile justice prisons.”

An Aboriginal man in a hat and jacket stands facing the camera, and a person adjusts a spitting cap on someone in the background
The video consisted of five long takes that required extensive coordination and rehearsal.(Supplied: Marugeko)

In the run-up to January 26 (Known Like the day of the invasion or the day of survival For many Indigenous Australians, as well as other members of the community) and against the backdrop of the ongoing debate around the Indigenous voice to Parliament, the company and the artists involved hope the video will not only resonate with Australian audiences, but lead to positive action.

“We’re really proud and we’re really excited [about this work]And [but] It’s also heartbreaking,” says Yauru/Bardi choreographer and dancer Dalisa Pegram, co-artistic director of Marugeko.

“We’re filming some really important moments in our history that hurt like hell, that break our hearts, that we live through every single day.

“[But] That’s what art is — it’s to spark dialogue and these kinds of responses from us as artists, but also from the people who look at them.”

The company released the clip on YouTube in December, to celebrate United Nations Human Rights Day, and to “speak to our communities to say, ‘We are with you.'” We’re trying to say [in the video] The same things that people were shouting about [about] Day in and day out for a long time,” Pegram explains.

“Not much has changed in this country. Look at Aboriginal deaths in custody: about 30 years later (after the 1991 Royal Commission), Things are worse. So how do we actually deal with these things? And when will we see this change that we are all waiting for? “

The nation of jailers

The seed for This Is Australia was planted in 2018, when Swain showed Pigram the video made by Childish Gambino – aka Donald Glover.

“I was blown away by the artistic way of connecting some of the issues that were happening to America in a really clever way — through the music, the dance, the media that [Marrugeku] It’s often used to tell stories,” Pegram recalls.

Glover made the backing track available for people to download and make their own copies of – which led to remixes from other countries, including This is IraqAnd This is Nigeria And This is Brazil.

Swain and Pigram began working on their version in 2019, bringing in Perth-based rapper Bjah, who traveled to Sydney (where Marrugeku is partly based, along with Broome) to work on the lyrics in collaboration with dancers.

He told ABC Arts: “Because we had so many issues to broach as first Australians… the song pretty much wrote itself.”

But work on the video grounds to a halt during the pandemic — instead, the song has become part of Marrugeku’s dance stage act. Jurrungu Ngan-ga [Straight Talk]which premiered in Broome in 2021 and is playing at This year’s Adelaide Festivalbefore touring at the Black Swan Theater Company of WA.

Jurrungu Ngan-ga explores “the way Australia locks in what it fears”, as Swain puts it – with a particular focus on the experiences of asylum seekers and first Australians.

The work was based on discussions with Yawuru Elder and Senator Patrick Dodson, with whom Marrugeku regularly collaborates, in the aftermath of Don Dale’s shocking report on ABC TV’s Four Corners, in 2016.

Nine dancers move across a smoke-filled stage, some moving from a crouching position, others on tiptoe
Jurrungu Ngan-ga was inspired by the musings of Dodson (an ancestor of Pegram and patron of Marrugeku), Australian scholar and Iranian activist Omid Tufejian, and Iranian-Kurdish writer Behrouz Bojani.(Supplied: Marugeko / Abby Murray)

“We were talking about … the psyche of Australia and how we have a built-in-the-knee reflex to shut down things that are hard for us,” Swain recalls.

And he (Dodson) spoke of us being a nation of jailers, from colonial times [onwards]. “

In April 2022, a month after Western Australia’s borders reopened, the stars finally join forces on This Is Australia – at Fitzroy Crossing, country of dancer Emmanuel James Brown (and site of recent record-breaking floods).

Marrugeku was on tour in Jurrungu Ngan-ga, and it was the first time that all of the company’s dancers had been in one place since the pandemic began.

They filmed the segment over the course of three 40-plus-degree days, with Bjah and lead dancer Luke Currie-Richardson wearing a woolen trench coat and pants respectively—a nod to condemn the uniform.

A shirtless Aboriginal man holding a white gun aims at an Aboriginal man sitting on a white chair
In Jurrungu Ngan-ga, dancer Luke Currie-Richardson (left) performs This is Australia.(Supplied: Marugeko)

Kids in the clip include members of the Fitzroy Crossing community—a collaboration only possible because of the company’s longstanding relationship with the area.

“While filming, you could feel like the community was with us,” says Pegram.

“They loved the vibe of what she was saying and what she represented… [They were] We are proud that we chose to film it in Bunuba country.”

“Aussie’s Day is Coming”

When Donald Glover was asked about the intention behind This Is America, “I just wanted to make a good song, something people could play on the Fourth of July,” he said.

An Aboriginal man in a hat and jacket stands with his arms up, and a group of dancers - both white and Aboriginal - behind him
In 2016, Bjah became the first Aboriginal winner of a WAM (Western Australian Music) Award for Biggest Song of the Year.(Supplied: Marugeko)

Pegram would like people to watch This Is Australia on January 26, and reflect on the treatment of First Nations people and refugees in this country. The video begins with the words:

We just want Barbie

Broke a can or two

Put your belts on

Australian Dollar Duty Day.

“If our video prompts those conversations that I know grow and evolve as we get closer and as we pass that set date… [and if] We can keep talking about it, we might get somewhere, and one day we’ll be proud to be in this place that we share,” Pegram says.

Portrait of Dalissa Pegram, a young Aboriginal woman in a black shirt with her hair tied up, smiling
Goodness knows how we managed it all [filming the clip] Because there were so many elements that had to come together very quickly,” says Pegram, whose two children are shown in This Is Australia.(Supplied: Marugeko)

“I would like everyone to see it,” Begah says [on January 26] Just because what we’re trying to bring to the fore here…is the systemic racism and institutional racism that is ingrained in Australian society.

“We’re trying to get it up front so people know we need to start making changes based on the constitution. Hopefully later this year, people will vote ‘yes’ to give a voice to Parliament for Indigenous Peoples, which I think would be a huge step forward.”

Two Aboriginal men run in the foreground and another group run in the background at twilight
Donald Glover has not yet responded to this release.(Supplied: Marugeko)

Pegram says an Aboriginal vote in front of parliament is something she was also hoping for. With this in mind, she “hopes that people watch this video, listen to the lyrics, feel something and act on it”.

“We’ve just suffered through these things for so long, and I know not everyone suffers… We are strong, resilient people. We’re still here. We’ve always been here. We won’t give up on our country, we won’t give up. We won’t give up on the pride we have in who we are and our relationship.” on this earth.”

“[But] It is time for people to start hearing us, feeling us, listening to us and standing with us, and hopefully that will create new paths forward.”

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