TV

“It Throws Black People Under The Bus”: Black Reactions To ‘First Contact’

Two Indigenous Australians discuss the first episode of a divisive series.

Last night the second season of SBS’s First Contact began and was met with mixed reviews. The show involves six white celebrities — including One Nation co-founder David Oldfield — visiting Indigenous communities for 28 days and confronting their (often racist) views about First Australians.

While some praised it for provoking difficult conversations, others felt that it exploited Indigenous Australians for the purpose of white Australia’s epiphanies about inequality. We asked writer, activist and Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman Nayuka Gorrie and her brother, writer, activist and Gunai/Kurnai and Yorta Yorta man Paul Gorrie, to watch the first episode last night.

Nayuka

It is a pragmatic belief that you take the lesser of two evils. Often it takes an overt evil to make the covert look reasonable. It’s hard to look at First Contact and not think that. Old mate David Oldfield — the co-founder of One Nation — is clearly an extremist and easy to write off. Like his mate Pauline Hanson, he believes Aboriginality is damaging. It is easy to write off Oldthing. The problem, though, is that he makes Dicko and Renae Ayris seem reasonable.

We could speculate all day about comments made last night during the first episode. Whether it was Oldface commenting on how patriarchal Aboriginal society is or when he refused to put on ochre or hop in the water despite the immense generosity of Timmy (in the video above). We could talk about Nicki Wendt mentioning how often she brushes and flosses her teeth (twice). We could talk about Renae Ayris cringing at the term ‘stolen land’. We could talk about the mystical, mythical Aboriginality that Natalie Imbruglia seems to imagine we have.

I watched the show with Tom Ballard (who also appears on the show) last night. We watched it and recorded a podcast straight after. When your mate is in something you want to be supportive. Before we watched it he asked me how I was feeling. I told him it felt like that scene in A Clockwork Orange when Alex is strapped to the chair with his eyes forced open by bits of metal. During the course of the show I found myself screaming at the screen but telling Tom he was alright — and he was, did you see his hair?

But in all honesty the question is not how racist the participants are or how great my mate is. The ultimate question is whether or not this sort of programming has a place on our screens. I don’t think it does.

This show is not for black people. We are not the intended audience. The intended audience are people who see themselves reflected on that show; the white supremacist who thinks black people should die off or assimilate (Oldshit), the jovial old man who thinks Aboriginal people can’t think for themselves (Dicko), the well-meaning but ultimately flawed (Natalie Imbruglia) and the sympathetic (Tom). The problem with this is that it still throws black people under the bus. It is trauma porn that further harms black people for the entertainment of non-black people. The warnings and support numbers NITV provided before and after the episode is testament to this.

Some people may find solace in the fact that Blackfella Films were the production company behind it. This does not matter — if anything makes it worse. Miranda Devine’s tweets about domestic violence leave reminds us that people can people can still participate in the oppression of their own people.

I watched the entire episode because I was asked to. If left to my own devices I wouldn’t watch or encourage others to watch it. Earlier today I spoke to my brother Paul and he told me he turned it off halfway.

Paul

After hearing about the return of First Contact on SBS, I guess I had really mixed emotions about the notion of Aboriginal people being displayed for entertainment. I also had the thought that if people were to watch this show from the comfort of their own home, would that really make them question the way they see Aboriginal disadvantages on these stolen lands? Would they actually go out challenge people on the street and not participate in the continuous oppression of Aboriginal people? Would they (white Australians) understand the nuances of how damaging a show like this can be for Aboriginal people?

I began watching the first episode last night and I got about 15 minutes into it before I thought, ‘this is enough’. I had this strong wave of emotion; it was sadness and frustration. How could I watch my people voyeuristically like this for entertainment? How could I watch a bunch of ignorant white people (#notallwhitepeople) be disrespectful to Aboriginal people in their own homes and space? So I decided to switch off the episode, not go any further and I went to sleep.

After much thought, I woke up this morning and then revisited it. I realised I had a lot more questions at the end of the episode than before I’d started.

I wondered who would be watching this show. It appears on SBS, so it raises the question: who is the target audience? There are a few people on First Contact with large profiles and obviously they could attract an audience. However, the people who were likely to watch a show about the journey of a few ignorant people probably wouldn’t have those same ignorant ideas and beliefs, right?

I also decided to watch it again because I thought that I needed to. It’s kind of like when you hear that an album is terrible, and you need to hear it just to make sure it’s not worth listening to ever again.

I would like to think there is a better way to challenge racist ideas about Aboriginal people rather than the using it as a form of entertainment. Right?

Read about about other reactions to the new season of First Contact here.

Nayuka is a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman working in the youth sector. Nayuka writes about black politics and feminism. She tweets at @nayukagorrie.

Paul is a Gunai/Kurnai & Yorta Yorta man, Blacktivist, environmentalist, and artist.