‘Samson & Delilah’: Self-Determined, or Self-Inflicted Pain?

To greater and lesser degrees, every Indigenous film reflects the specific storytelling traditions of the native peoples being represented” – Houston Wood

In the last decade, Post-Apology Indigenous Films, in response to Australian National Cinema’s imbued historical persistence to possess the physical environment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples that revisit themes of displacement, alienation and homelessness (Siemienowicz 2009), reflects on contemporary Indigenous social issues through the reassessment of familiar, albeit distorted, iconographies or stereotypes of Indigenous Australian Peoples to invite affective, ethical responses (Collins 2010). Indigenous filmmakers, as cultural educators, reverently employ culturally-specific storytelling traditions in cinematic spaces that, a la Dreamtime stories, reiterate Indigenous Australian Peoples’ accumulated epistemes, insights and spirituality to familiarise oneself  with such implicitly-defined knowledge for gradual understandings of vital information (McKay 2016).

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Rowan McNamara as Samson in ‘Samson & Delilah’ (Image Source: https://www.mubi.com/)

Regrettably, Warwick Thornton’s romantic-drama Samson & Delilah (2009) inadvertently exercised, in specific audiences, negatively-opted perceptions of an Indigenous Australia. This expectorated a racialised, rather than contextualised, comprehension of Aboriginal sovereignty, which, in effect, chastised social distress (Haag 2014). This unwitting disservice, despite Thornton’s intentions to create a dialogical exchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian People to service reconciliation, is raised, to an extent, through culturally foreign, ignorant or uneducated audiences’ responses, particularly in misinterpreting ‘Samson & Delilah’s’ Aboriginal cultural codes, such as Aboriginal Sovereignty.

Indeed, in ‘Samson & Delilah’, Thornton’s auteurial signature, a cyclical experimentation with the temporalities of, in this case, the tediousness of everyday life in a remote community in Central Australia, is utilised to explore negotiations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian worlds’ cultures, politics and discourses of Aboriginal Peoples’ identities (Davis 2009).

‘Samson & Delilah’ Unanswered Telephone Scene: https://www.youtube.com/v/kZTvp-xhDXo?start=404&end=433%5D

For instance, here, the leitmotif of the unanswered telephone, whose jarring diegetic sound is contrasted with the Outback’s ambient soundscape, symbolises, in addition to the protagonists’ isolation, the condemnation of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2008 National Apology to the Stolen Generations as a designation of help that offers no real, nor significant, solution  to contemporary Indigenous issues affecting Aboriginal Peoples’ communities, including substance abuse, displacement and poverty (Davis 2009). Incidentally, this subtle sovereignty, for contextually-unaware audiences, is misplaced, stimulating a racialised response to this social problem; of faulting Indigenous Australian Peoples’ ‘liberal affairs’ through self-induced guilt with the intention to exact ‘white guilt’ (Haig 2014).

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The ‘National Apology to the Stolen Generations’ commiserated the mistreatment of the Indigenous Australian population as a result of the Australian State and Federal Governments’ ‘Assimilation Policy’ that resulted in the ‘Stolen Generation’ (Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/)

As a recognition of the mistreatment of Australia’s Indigenous population, the ‘National Apology’ commiserated the injustice of the illegitimacy of the Australian Federal and State governments’ post-invasion ‘Assimilation Policy’ , which established the forcible removal of Indigenous Australian children from their families and communities (i.e. the ‘Stolen Generation’) in an effort to eradicate the Indigenous Australian population and, in effect, Aboriginal cultures, including languages, traditions, epistemes, and ceremonies. Despite its intentions, the ‘National Apology’, through claiming this restorative justice, effectively restored lost, albeit fictive, ideals of a non-Indigenous Australia as a legitimate sovereign nation (Assmann & Conrad 2010).  This foreclosed, as a result, the representations of the divisions, conflicts and inequalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians as part of a ‘fractured Australia’ through the ‘legitimisation’ of the Aboriginal population as Australians (Assmann & Conrad 2010).

This stipulates the importance of an intercultural framework to mediate Indigenous Australian historical, social and cultural signifiers in virtue of the filmmakers’ intentions of Indigenous Cinema through elucidating this relevant information in Indigenous Peoples’ culturally-specific storytelling traditions to tend to contextually-relevant, albeit averse, variables, such as unconscious bias, education and foreign cultures. Thus, in contesting perfunctory, colonialist epistemes through comprehending Aboriginal communities, an Aboriginal history and Aboriginal cultures in the pan-regional films of Indigenous Cinema, the facilitation of ethical, rather than counterintuitive, contributions towards contemporary Indigenous social, cultural and political issues are emphasised.

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Thomas Joannides

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References
Assmann, A & Conrad, S 2010, Memory in a Global Age: Discourses, Practices and Trajectories, Palgrave Macmillan
Collins, F 2010, ‘After the Apology: Reframing Violence and Suffering in First Australians, Australia and Samson and Delilah’, Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 24, no. 3, accessed 8 September 2016,
Davis, T 2009, ‘Love and Social Marginality in Samson and Delilah’, Senses of Cinema, vol. 51, accessed 8 September 2016,
Haag, O 2014, ‘Racialising the Social Problem: Reception of Samson and Delilah in Germany’, Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 28, no. 1, accessed 8 September 2016,
National Apology to the Stolen Generations, 2012, online video, accessed 8 September 2016.
McKay, H 2016, Australian Storytelling, accessed 8 September 2016,
Samson and Delilah, 2009, motion picture, Madman Entertainment, Australia
Siemienowicz, R. 2009, ‘Globalisation and home values in New Australian cinema’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 23, no. 63, pp. 49-55
Warwick Thornton on Contributing to a Living Culture, 2009, online video, accessed 8 September 2016,
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