For Charmaine Bingwa, the last eight minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s life under the knee of a white cop is a powerful reminder to people everywhere to check their biases and consider the implications of what they are saying or silently condoning.
As an Indigenous woman, Larissa Behrendt felt a personal connection to police brutality in the US, drawing a parallel with the death of David Dungay and more than 430 other Aboriginal deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission.
Gemma Bird Matheson suggests five ways in which a white person can deal with guilt, including telling white friends how he or she is contributing to anti-blackness and white supremacy; learning about Australia’s black history; and donating to families of First Nations who have suffered at the hands of Australian police.
Striking a similar tone, Eka Darville declares: “White Australia now it’s your turn – it starts with you. It starts with consciously unpacking your own implicit bias and privilege. The black community will heal, but it’s really hard to heal a wound when someone keeps hitting it.”
These are among the comments from Australians in Film members posted in AiF’s newsletter last week and now part of Members Voices, a new monthly forum.
“Australians in Film has been listening to the many discussions that have been occurring globally as the result of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis,” the organization stated.
“These discussions have inevitably lead us closer to home, as Australia also struggles to understand its role in the treatment of Indigenous people, including those who have died in police custody.
“As an organization, we acknowledge that there is deep systemic, casual and generational racism in our adopted home of the US, Australia and around the world.
“As a result of this sometimes overt, and sometimes unseen unconscious racism, a lot of psychological hurt and emotional pain has been caused to innocent people. AiF is deeply committed to change, and as an organization and individually, we can do better.”
Referring to Floyd’s death, Bingwa, the 2018 Heath Ledger Scholarship winner, said: “I won’t be comfortable until I have done all I can to prevent anything as savage, immoral and racially motivated from happening again. It will take all of us to alter a system that condones such acts, but the good news is we are already on our way.”
Behrendt, who will participate in this year’s AiF/ Screen Australia’s Mentor LA program, observed: “It was a sad irony that the events of this week took place in Reconciliation Week. It’s left many of us reminded of how far we still have to go.”
Ezekiel Simat, whose credits include Lambs of God and Back to the Rafters, revealed that he felt be belonged for the first time in his life when he went to Los Angeles when he was 24.
But while he feels more welcome and recognised professionally in his adoptive homeland than in Australia, he acknowledged: “Recently, the life of a man like me was valued at $20. I don’t understand a country that can gently apprehend mass shooters but continually kills black men (like me) over $20 (Floyd), skittles (Trayvon), cigarette sales (Garner) or jogging (Arbery).
“Even more jarring, is the activism I’m witnessing back in Australia for the violent crimes in the USA, when Australia, too, is built upon genocide and black slavery.”
Actor/writer Meyne Wyatt, who delivered a powerful anti-racism monologue on Q&A last Monday, recalled a shocking incident in Western Australia in 1974 when his father was booted in the face and body by one cop while four pinned him on the ground.
“The cop who kicked my father in the face became WA superintendent and was awarded the Australian police medal in the 90s,” he said.
AiF member Jub Clerc said: “Unconscious bias is as lethal as blatant racism and perhaps harder emotionally to endure when you realise those you hold dearest may not be your allies.
“The one thing I have found from these profound conversations of equality and compassion is that love really truly does, in all its corny glory, conquer all… but by Goddesses, ‘privilege’ knows how to fight and you do not want to cross it in a dark alley.”
Kodie Bedford said: “Australians, you cannot support Black Lives Matter in the US if you don’t support Indigenous Lives in Australia.”
Producer Mitchell Stanley declared: “We have a voice and it’s now being heard, we’re asking for change and equality, not world domination, the British Empire nailed that.
“The arts are also suffering, it’s now through a global pandemic and racial crisis that we need artists to inspire, inform, entertain and unite one race, the human one.”
Fellow AiF member Loani Arman eloquently described the lump in her throat as the legacy of tears she’s swallowed and wounds she’s hidden away for 40 years.
“But I’m one of the lucky ones because I don’t have to live in fear of my life and I don’t have loved ones who’ve died in custody,” she said.
“I don’t have to train my children how to survive a walk through their neighbourhood. But so, so many do. And it’s time it stopped.
“It is time. Listen. Make space. Learn. And do so much more. #blacklivesmatter”