One need look no further than Pat Boone and Little Richard to understand just how long and hard the white establishment has been sticking it to black artists. I mean, way back in the days of Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building Sound the entire formula was patent – seek out black artists, pay them wooden nickels on the dollar, make off with all their publishing, then whore it out for shits and giggles.
Enter The Sapphires – a film about an Aboriginal girl group from Australia that can kick out the Blues as if their very lives depended on it. We’re talking about soul sisters here … all three of them homely and desperate and poor. They’re eventually joined by a half-bred white cousin from the city, rounding out the four-piece ensemble in more ways than one.
The Sapphires is an independent film, and it retains that indie sheen. The closest you’ll get to Hollywood frills in this film is the casting of Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, Girls) – the lovable schlub for lovable schlubs by lovable schlubs. O’Dowd – much like The Sapphires itself – is marginally good, but falls far short of great.
Ninety-percent of the reviews already written about The Sapphires have seen fit to compare it to 2006’s Dreamgirls. But the reality is, The Sapphires is much more about reclaiming something that was taken away a long time ago. What’s more, the film is largely based upon an Australian play … a play that premiered in 2004 … a play that was, in turn, based on a real-life girl group’s story … one that occurred way back in the late sixties (Oddly enough, the name Sapphires is actually a reference to a wholly separate ensemble that rose out of Philadelphia during that same era). So, if anything, it might be Dreamgirls that is guilty of taking early cues from The Sapphires. Either way, in the end, The Sapphires is a charming – if not cheesy – reminder that it really doesn’t matter if you’re Elvis Presley or Justin Timberlake … you simply cannot step out on that stage without casting a dark shadow behind you.