Sapphires Essay by Liang

The award winning Australian film “The Sapphires” (2012) directed by Wayne Blair; composed of a blend of well-coordinated narrative elements and cinematic devices, convey the growth in one of the lead characters-Gail. She journeys through Vietnam with her soul sisters and the ever presence of Dave. Through a range of carefully staged experiences, Gail is seen on the path of self-discovery and finding her place in life.


The dynamics of Gail’s physical presentation and representation are transfigured through a journey of a life time. Upon entering the warzone of Vietnam, Blair ensures Gail is established as a “commanding presence”. It is easily identified she has a dominating and intimidating aura surrounding herself. She is directed with a tough stance with an edgy and defensive manner. Gail is often depicted in a mid-shot; ensuring the audience are able to convey the character’s facial expressions and upper body language. From one particular scene prior to Vietnam – Gail is staged with crossed arms with her legs slightly spaced apart, when she is strongly requested by Dave to let Julie replace herself as lead-singer during their first rehearsal. Her stance is closing herself off from everybody else and trying to protect herself, producing a subtle sign of discomfort to enforce the image of herself to seem more commanding as an authoritative figure.  However juxtaposing this image, she begins smiles more often, not a small snarky smirk, but a real smiles with her eyes light up, her body signals have also become more open. When Dave and herself we’re dancing, they we’re holding each other, Gail was letting Dave lead and guide her body movements to the soft immersing music. Throughout the journey the director’s wardrobe choice has also changed for Gail. This is significant; as the clothing fits better, accumulating her appearance, the softer shades help Gail to appear more feminine and gentle. Compared to previously when she wore darker and heavier shades- baggy and lose clothing hiding her figure, while she was a “mouth on legs”. This change signifies the director signalling a new leaf for Gail. Her physical nature becomes noticeably gentler and softer, representative of the growth in Gail, learning to let go.


Gail the eldest of the quartet making her way through Vietnam- embodies the role of “mama bear with her cubs”. As Blair has established Gail as a controlling woman, her character is juxtaposed against a country torn apart by war; throwing her into unfamiliar and threating territory. Blair brings in the role of mama bear, as Gail bears the self-entitled responsibility for her sisters and cousin. She confesses to Dave she cannot forgive herself if any harm came across to her family under her watch. This is seen when the government officials abducted Kay from the Indigenous community and when Gail tries to prevent Julie from coming to Vietnam and being close to the war, as she is the youngest. During their debut performance the camera does not focus on Gail, but merely skimming over her. She is not the strongest voice but the girls come to Gail in a group hug in the end, because they know she holds them together. Gail’s arms are placed over the shoulders of Julie, Cynthia and Kay, because they are under her wing and she will do anything to put them first to achieve their dreams. Blair illuminates Gail’s face with a partial lighting, empathizing the pride and happiness upon her face. A mother sacrifices certain things in her life out of love, but every choice and decision is made for the benefit of her children. Gail steps back from the role of lead singer, it was difficult for her to swallow her pride but the worth of the compromise was for the good of her sisters. Through these scenes, Blair depicts the bond between Gail and The Sapphires influencing the change in identity she undergoes as the mama bear.


Through the journey Gail discovers a newfound relationship with Dave, a special man who is able to help her discover the parts she never knew about herself. While Gail was with the company of Dave by the side of a riverbed, Blair displays a natural scenery showing them both in their natural behaviour. The camera frames are often in mid-shots, setting both characters on an equal level seeing eye to eye. Dave also delivers his “mama bear” speech in the natural lighting highlighting his genuineness and true feelings; brings to her attention that she is a “defensive and argumentative old witch”, because she is the mama bear who protects her family from harm’s way. This comes as a new realization to Gail as she never really considered why she was the way she was , a close up camera shot is used to clearly outline Gail’s reaction of surprise and the small smile of  appreciation that someone has noticed something she never knew herself. The relationship she has with Dave has changed drastically, as Gail has learned to give the mutual respect that he deserves softening the tension which once existed between them. Through the course of journeying through Vietnam Gail is comforted by Dave, who wants to take care of her and protect her. With Dave by her side, Gail learns to let others watch out for her, that even the strongest people need someone to lean on.

Through one incredible journey through a warzone, with a sole purpose to restore hope to those who are struggling to get it back. Gail gains a deeper understanding the aspects of her personality that she never knew existed, until they were brought out by the ones closest to her heart. She is a woman who has become a more confident and brave, discovering her place with a new meaning and perception.

Sapphires Essay by Neha (9H)



In the film ‘The Sapphires’ (2012) directed by Wayne Blair, the protagonist Gail goes through certain experiences leading up to and during her journey in Vietnam which cause many significant changes in her as a person. Blair carefully constructs the character of Gail and makes effective use of both story and production elements to outline the changes that take place in her. His depiction of the racist culture in Australia is contrasted with Vietnam where the girls encounter different dark skinned races and are consequently more accepted than they had been in their own country. Through Vietnam, ‘The Sapphires’ rise to fame and make new decisions and connections allowing the ‘Momma Bear’ Gail to change. In Vietnam Gail begins to balance her responsibilities with others. She also starts to become more feminine. In addition Gail also ends up forgiving Kay and herself, finding a way to make peace and move forward, letting go of the past.


The journey through Vietnam brings a more feminine change in Gail. Blair establishes this change by contrasting the dressing styles of Gail in Australia and then in Vietnam. In Australia, Gail wears casual striped tops with skirts. Her hair is left unstyled and Blair never uses accessories as part of her appearance. To emphasize her lack of feminism, Blair also often uses dull lighting and dark clothing when representing Gail. However, in Vietnam, as ‘The Sapphires’ start to become more famous, Gail’s image changes. During the Momma Bear scene, Blair clearly signifies the change that has taken place in Gail through the manipulation of production elements. He uses natural light and costumes Gail in light-coloured clothes, big earrings and a bright orange ribbon, which together act to emphasize how Gail has changed to become more feminine. Through his direction of body language and voice, Blair also establishes the feminism in Gail. At the beginning of the film, Gail’s voice was very harsh and demanding. However in the Momma Bear scene, we can distinguish the change when Gail speaks quieter and softer than before showing more affection towards Dave. Similarly, Gail’s body language evolves throughout the film to represent the softening of her personality; in the beginning she is frequently shown with crossed arms, indicating disapproval or sadness. Towards the end however, Gail isn’t shown with her arms crossed but instead shown crying in instances such as the loss of Dave. This shows that she is now comfortable enough in herself to give in to emotions. Therefore the journey in Vietnam changes Gail to be more feminine.


Gail changes through the journey in Vietnam as she begins to share and balance her responsibilities and authority with others. Through the juxtaposition of the lead singer in Australia and Vietnam, Blair establishes the change in Gail. At the beginning of the film in Australia during the talent quest, Gail is the dead center of attention and Cynthia is just a backup standing to one side. To emphasize Gail’s possessiveness and dominance Blair uses a slight spotlight and places specific focus on her in the camera frame. When Julie then comes and joins the girls, Gail is pushed off her mike. Here Blair uses a close up shot of Gail which shows how she is disapproving and unwilling to share her responsibility with others. However, as ‘The Sapphires’ begin their Vietnam journey from the audition, Dave points out Julie’s strength and Gail’s weakness causing Gail to change. Initially Gail gets angry but then begins to realize that she isn’t fully capable of bringing the best and by giving Julie the opportunity to sing lead it will be the best for the group.  Blair then also signifies the change during the scene in Vietnam where the girls perform to ‘What a man’ through his direction of camera and light. Blair places the camera in such a way to show how Gail is now just a part of the group along with the other girls. He does not use close up shots on Gail, nor does he position her in center stage with spotlight. Julie is now the lead singer, and Gail who has now changed, happily acknowledges Julie sharing her authority. Therefore the journey through Vietnam changes Gail by making her share her responsibilities and authority with others.


Through the Vietnam journey, Gail changes to forgive herself and Kay, letting go of the past and moving on. At the beginning of the film when Gail and Cynthia meet Kay in Melbourne, Kay acts embarrassed and rather than receiving her cousins, she tries to send them away. Gail gets angry at Kay’s proud attitude saying ‘she’s lost that one’. Blair conveys these emotions through the use of a close up shot of Gail as well as bright light to signify how from Gail’s perspective Kay seems to be so strongly influenced by the white culture that she almost seems like she’s no longer aboriginal. Despite Kay coming to join ‘The Sapphires’ in Vietnam, Gail never considers forgetting about the past , and only complicates their relationship by punching Kay. Through a flashback used by Blair, we learn that because of Gail’s decision to leave Kay unsupervised in the hospital and Kay’s attitude at her mother’s death, Gail has‘never been able to forgive [Kay], or [herself]’. However, as the Vietnam journey comes to an end, the girls experience war and this changes Gail. Through the experience of chaos, Gail learns about the importance of peace. She learns to forget the past and forgive herself and Kay in order to be peaceful and move on happily. At the end, in the scene where Gail takes Kay to the wise woman to get her purified and traditionally a part of the Cummeragunja community, Blair clearly indicates this change. He uses bright light to signify the happiness and peace in their relationship unlike before. The fact that Gail goes with Kay also explains how Gail has changed to fully acknowledge and accept Kay as one of them once again. The journey through Vietnam changes Gail by letting her forget about the past and live peacefully, moving on with life.


In Vietnam, as Gail encounters different dark skinned races she goes through certain experiences in which she makes new decisions and connections, and ‘The Sapphires’ rise to fame. Through these experiences Gail develops greater femininity and gains a deeper understanding in sharing responsibilities and maintaining peace. This leads Gail to change and better fulfill her role as the ‘momma bear’ of the group.

Context Response by Melissa (9F)




I am deciding to write a memoir because I feel it is the most suitable form for me and I have experienced writing in this form in the past. I believe undertaking a diary-entry cannot express, with in-depth, about my life and experiences. I also prefer the idea of beginning and ending anywhere with no certain structure or arguments, therefore I am not choosing to write a personal essay. I am aiming to write in highly descriptive language with appropriate use of metaphors and similes to make my piece more complex and sophisticated. I will be combining formal language with writing techniques to establish an engaging memoir. I am aiming to point my memoir towards a broad audience but specifically those who have experienced life under strict families and expectations, similarly to what I have been through. My purpose is to assure them that they do not need to change themselves for anybody and that the only person they need to satisfy is themselves. The connections between ‘Unpolished Gem’ and my memoir is that both Alice and I felt the pressure to be high achievers from our family, so much that we felt we could not be ourselves yet both of us are grateful for our parents and learned to value their company and understand the sacrifices they made for us. I decided to choose this prompt because I could relate to it the most, knowing how it feels to live in a world that is constantly trying to change me and influencing me to be the best. I will be exploring this prompt by looking at pressure from family and friends and ‘living a lie’ yet I will be also looking at it in another angle when I mention that the expectations from my family helped me discover who I am today. This example will portray that the tough expectations of the world could help identify you, instead of obstructing your true identity.



“What is your name?” The lady with the ‘purposely discombobulated’ hair and small spectacles asked five-year-old me.
I glanced at my parents who were sitting adjacent me, stiff as statues, urging me to reply in my best English, with just an invisible beam of their eyes.
“Melissa,” I had said.
The lady, whose name shone prestigiously on her badge: M. McCracken, head of Junior School, smiled.
“What would you like to be when you’re older, Melissa?”
The question was so simple to me; the answer, even simpler.
“A draw-er,” I responded, not noticing the way my parents leaned forward, their knuckles white from clenched fists. I was too busy imagining myself surrounded by a plethora of coloured pencils.
My mother opened and closed her mouth like a fish, before hesitantly whispering to me, “N-no. Be Ngan, tell her you want to be a doctor.”
It was my first interview with the principal of the posh private school my parents were enrolling me to. Unlike my cousins who all were going to attend public schools in the more ‘Western suburbs’ where Asians were abundant, my parents had moved far away, into a whitewashed community.
They were making many sacrifices to ensure that my brothers and I would have a future much more fortunate than theirs and from that day onwards, I slowly realized that my future was already thought of, roughly sketched and published, sitting on a table just waiting for me to pick up.
And I would have no choice but to pick it up.

As a child, I was never aware of certain things my parents did to make sure that I was able to have a good impending. They told me ‘never shower at night or sleep with wet hair’ because it would be ‘bad for your brain’. My Mum would endlessly rant about not ever, ever leaving my books on the ground because it somehow meant that I was putting study priorities last.
They bought us toys such as plastic stethoscopes, or lab coats; and when we scraped our knee, taught us not just how to put on Band-Aids, but how to apply ointments, creams, oils and make special remedies like turmeric, tea and honey.
Pretty soon, five-year-old me had learned that the easiest way to avoid the wooden stick and feel loved was to abolish the thought of ever becoming a ‘draw-er’ and start focusing on becoming ‘da doc-tor’.

I thought that I would be living a lie for the rest of my life, hopelessly trying to impress my family and falsely persuading them that I was going to be the brightest daughter, top student in class and when I’m older, will be a surgeon or specialist doctor that when patients needed to see me, they had to ring privately before passing a pair of guards and entering through my double, golden French-doors.
When I reached high school, I discovered that I was not solitary.
“My parents won’t be happy with a 98%,” my friends would giggle.
“Not even a 99%,” I would add.
Then we’d all laugh and say in unison, half-mocking our parents, “‘What happened to the 1%?’”
My friends and I all knew it was not true but we learned to love the way our meticulous families behaved and quickly adapted to the unreasonable way our parents thought to make sure that we turned out to be rich, successful people. Knowing that I was not alone and that many students have parents who did not even care about their future made me accept the sacrifices my parents made for me, more easily.
Soon enough, it was like they had brainwashed me so that I wanted to become a doctor. Knowing how proud I made my family, or how intimidating I could sound just by saying ‘I’m going to the a doctor when I’m older’, soon my parents’ wishes were mine.

“Imagine this,” my Aunt told me over a family-dinner one night. “It is the end of the world and there is a boat for the most valuable people.” By valuable she really meant ‘useful’.
“The president?” I asked.
She twitched her lips. “Well yeah, but who else would they want on that boat?”
I took too long to reply so she said, “Not artists, or actresses or fitness-instructors right?” She listed all the occupations I considered being. “Not even vets.”
“Doctors?” I guessed, knowing the answer.
Yes!” She exclaimed. “Doctors. Leaders. They need engineers and scientists.” My Aunt gave me a long look. “If you want to be on that boat, aim for the moon.”

Surely enough, I was under a mantra – or perhaps it truly was me.
On display for society to see, I would completely change who I was to fit into the ‘freakishly-smart’ category so they all would be able to say “She wants to be a doctor. She’s going to be rich.”
It made me feel like somebody – somebody who belonged on ‘the boat’.

I stopped feeling pressure from the world to be different – instead started to feel pressure from myself. I wanted to convince myself that a certain path was the one and only path I must take.
I wanted to be the top. I wanted to be on that boat.
“You have potential,” my Dad would tell me and I still believe he was right. The world had shaped me into a person with great potential.
And after the expectations of my family and the pressure to impress the world, the only person I wanted to make proud, was myself.