It is astonishing that despite so many lives having been ruined by the heinous government policy so very few stories from the Stolen Generation have been told through the medium of cinema. Feature-films such as RABBIT PROOF FENCE and AUSTRALIA are the only two notable exceptions that come to mind, as well as documentaries like THE STOLEN GENERATION and FIRST AUSTRALIANS. And so any new attempt to examine this particular moment in history - in a properly considered manner – can only be a good thing.
Director Steven McGregor and writer/producer Mitchell Stanley take a first-person approach to the material and allow the five featured women to tell their stories in their own way. Each of them discuss their lives in a chronological manner as they recall the moment they were snatched from their parents (while unaware) and placed in the cruel care of the state. They candidly discuss the extend of the abuse inflicted upon them, including heartbreaking accounts of assault and rape, and do so with the upmost dignity. Their openness and candour provides an emotive and tangible connection for the audience to hold on to, and helps to break down the barrier that might have prevented outsiders form a greater understanding. McGregor also employs a welcome inclusion of recreations and rarely seen archival photographs, which elevate the recollections and make them easier to process.
SERVANT OR SLAVE is not a technical achievement, nor is it cinematic. It is, however, a raw and emotional account of five survivors who speak on behalf of the countless others who suffered. It avoids being overtly political and choses a course for unity over one of division, which in turn provides an easier point of entry for the rest of us. It is impossible to hear the women's stories and not be affected, and the pain in their faces speaks volumes where words cannot.
White Australia's biggest problem when it comes to understanding the Stolen Generation is that it assumes to know the full extent of it. What SERVANT OR SLAVE shows us is that we cannot possibly comprehend the severity and repercussions which the policy had on an entire race of people. It gives us another point of discussion, if even for quiet contemplation, and it provides another layer of information for us to absorb. It celebrates the courage and strength of these brave women, who in turn represent so many others like them.
SERVANT OR SLAVE is available on DVD at Umbrella Entertainment.