CAUTION! Some academics may be offended by the film footage in this link. Michael Noonan’s Naughty Bits
The controversial Bris Vegas film maker, Michael Noonan, has been accused of producing “misanthropic and amoral trash” and exploiting people with intellectual disabilities who are not competent to make decisions for themselves in his PhD thesis “Laughing at/with the Disabled.”
This criticism can be found in the now famous Australian (newspaper) article by two academics from QUT -Gary MacLennan and John Hookham entitled “Philistines of Relativism at the Gates” (link here). My critique of this article can be found here.
Since the screening of Noonan’s film “Unlikely Travelers” at the recent Brisbane International Film Festival (see my review here)) the supporters of MacLennan and Hookham’s criticism have maintained their rage against Noonan, explaining that the criticism had nothing to do with “Unlikely Travellers” but was aimed at “the other one”. “The Other One” is an as yet unfinished comedy film entitled “Down Under with Darren and James”.
However Darren and James are two of the six stars of “Unlikely Travellers” who showed themselves in the film and at the launch of the film to be much more than competent to make their own decisions about their involvement in this project. One of the controversial scenes criticised by MacLennan and Hookham involving the discussion of Darren and James sharing a woman is indeed in “Unlikely Travellers”.
“Unlikely Travellers” and “Down Under with Darren and James” are both part of Noonan’s PhD project. Noonan has been heavily criticised for not publically releasing his footage of the unfinished “other one”, attracting the accusation that he is trying to keep his dastardly deeds secret.
Well, that all changed today when Noonan’s naughty bits were published on the Courier Mail website – All the naughty bits (so far) including the woman sharing, the Aboriginal mauling and the oversized pen which was the footage that MacLennan and Hookham found so disturbing and condemned in their article.
I would like to discuss just one of the released scenes – the Aboriginal Mauling at the Boulia Pub. This was described by MacLennan and Hookham in their article thusly – “This produced a scene wherein a drunk Aboriginal woman amorously mauled William.” (“William” is the pseudonym MacLennan and Hookham gave to James for some strange reason).
This was reported on Britain’s “Times Online” - “The film, called Laughing at the Disabled, featured two mentally handicapped men who were sent into a bar to ask if there were any women looking for romance. One of them was severely beaten by a drunken Aboriginal woman.”
Now that Noonan’s naughty bits are hanging out in public, in particular the Boulia Pub Scene, this criticism can be clearly seen as the bitter, repressive, sensational and untruthful bullshit that it is.
Up until this point I have been absolutely supportive of Michael Noonan’s film work. Before I saw Unlikely Travellers I was impressed by his brief public explanations of what he was trying to do. After seeing “Unlikely Travellers”, which I was most profoundly impressed by, I had decided that this man could do no wrong. He was the cinematic messiah!
However since the Courier Mail have described Noonan as “Entirely Honourable” I feel I have no choice but to now criticise him.
Having seen the controversial Boulia footage I have indeed found a chink in Noonan’s armour, a blemish on his perfect skin.
The Boulia scenes shine a light on Noonan’s naivety about issues of race.
I hasten to add, Noonan’s naivety is not at all in the same category as MacLennan and Hookham’s racist and misogynist representation of the pub scene.
It is the naivety of James (the mauled one) that made the pub scene beautiful. In a situation of the unknown, of cultural and consciousness divides, a little love was shown and it happened easily and spontaneously. The Aboriginal woman was drinking beer but showed no signs of intoxication as described by the critics, only sensitivity, love and an obvious sexual attraction to James who is indeed a handsome young man.
Noonan’s naivety, and the focus of my now brutal assault on his charachter and personal integrity, is that he appears to have not noticed the underlying racism of Boulia that emerged in some of the footage away from the pub.
I have just watched the naughty bits with my partner who, coincidently enough, is a traditional owner and custodian of dance for the Boulia region – Pitta Pitta country. Neither of us drink but there is not much to do in Boulia so we spend a lot of time in the pub when we visit there and enjoyed watching the footage.
I make a brief note, but do not want to get too complicated – the Boulia pub mauling scene contained much Aboriginal humour, expressed not just in words but in body language which adds a deeper level, or perhaps a different dimension of humour to a black audience than is accessible to a white one or even to James himself at the time.
Noonan’s introduction to his naughty bits mentions Darren and James as authors of their comedy, the Murri woman in the scene has also authored comedy within an Aboriginal cultural matrix. For those who do not see this immediately be assured it is an accepting, gracious and loving humour, not a derisive or belittling humour, unlike some of the comments form white folks in the footage.
Which brings us back to the underlying racism which if Noonan was not aware of, I now draw to his attention if he happens to stumble on this humble blog.
The older women and the Aboriginal women in the Boulia footage commented on the spunkiness of James. When one of the white men was asked if there were any available women were around, he responded that there definitely were and that they had black or red hair. Who has black or red hair in Boulia? Murris do! Black hair, sunbleached orange hair or red tinted grey hair. These are the colour schemes of Aboriginal women which appear to be in the eyes of this particular white man the same as MacLennan and Hookham’s, as drunken sluts.
In this short footage the distinction between laughing “at” and laughing “with” is obvious (to me anyway). The Murris found a point of commonality and equality and engaged fearlessly despite the massive cultural difference. The whitefellas could not seem to achieve that same affinity with Darren and James and the fellow I just mentioned found humour in assuring James, who would not be suitable for a blonde haired woman, that he could easily find a black or red haired women from a similarly lower caste of person.
But all that is probably irrelevant as Noonan has said he was not intending to use the Boulia pub scene in the finished product. I hope he will change his mind and include it. The issues of Aboriginal Australia are very different from the issues of intellectual disability. There is however a significant similarity in that they are both perceived as “other” by mainstream culture which predominantly adheres to inaccurate stereotypes of what these “other” people are like. The Boulia Pub scene portrays both Aboriginality and disability in a positive, loving and indeed humourous light.