Aactas 2018: Warwick Thornton hits out at offshore detention as Sweet Country wins big
Indigenous talent and queer politics dominated the Australian film and television industry awards in Sydney on Wednesday night.
The Warwick Thornton-directed Sweet Country swept the film categories, winning a total of six gongs at the 60th annual Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (Aacta) awards, including the coveted award for best film, beating Boy Erased, Breath, Cargo and Ladies in Black for the top award, while Thornton won the award for best direction.
Newcomer Hamilton Morris won best lead actor for his portrayal of Sam, Sweet Country’s Indigenous stockman persecuted for killing a white station owner in self-defence, which was based on the true story of screenwriter David Tranter’s great-grandfather. Sweet Country also won for best editing, screenplay and cinematography at the industry lunch and first round of awards presented on Monday.
Meanwhile Riot, the ABC TV’s miniseries about the 1970s LGBT rights movement in Australia, which was nominated in 11 categories, won best telefeature or miniseries, and Damon Herriman and Kate Box won best lead actor and actress in a television drama.
In an impassioned and moving acceptance speech for her best actress in a drama series award for Riot, Box paid tribute to the LGBT community and the activists that paved the way for queer rights in Australia.
“We shot Riot in the lead-up to the marriage equality vote, which was a pretty rough time for a lot of people in the [LGBT] community, and having a place of work to go to that honoured this community was actually a complete lifesaver to me,” Box said.
“To the 78ers, I thank you for your fight and I’m deeply sorry for your pain. And to Nicole, playing your mum was truly one of the greatest privileges of my life. Marg [McCann] was the first gay Australian to win unconditional custody of their kids. Nicole, because of the fight that you put up as a fierce, young, awesome girl, my family is safe, and I will never take that for granted.”
Herriman, appearing by video message, also dedicated his award to the 78ers and the LGBT community.
In further nods to LGBT politics, Hannah Gadsby took out the best performance in a television comedy for her Netflix special, Nanette, while Nicole Kidman took out the award for best supporting actress for Boy Erased, a film about gay conversion therapy.
Joel Edgerton’s script for Boy Erased also won the award for best adapted screenplay. “One of the big things we hope is we’re going to end conversion therapy,” Edgerton said.
It wasn’t the only time politics came to the fore through the evening: the cast and crew of Sweet Country, like many actors and industry professionals who walked the Aactas red carpet on Wednesday night, wore blue ribbons as part of a campaign to bring all asylum seeker children detained on Nauru to Australia.
Thornton called Australia’s detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island “disgusting and childish and ridiculous”.
“As a country, we should grow up,” Thornton said. “This prison that we’ve created for these people – this idea that they can’t come here because legally we have to look after them … why is society being this childish? We’re not that dumb. We know the a difference between right and wrong. We’re just being told by certain people who create fear in our history that this is bad … Who gets an award because they stop the boats?”
More than 700 arts industry figures have signed an open letter calling for all asylum seeker children detained on Nauru to be brought to Australia, which was presented to the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, on Monday.
“After five years of indefinite detention, we must bring these human beings to safety and ensure they receive the medical treatment they need,” the letter said.
More Indigenous talent received recognition with the awards for best drama series going to the Rachel Perkins-directed Mystery Road, which also won awards for best editing and best original score on Monday. Mystery Road also received further recognition with Deborah Mailman winning best guest or supporting actress in a TV drama for her role in the series, and Wayne Blair winning best supporting actor in a TV drama for his.
Gurrumul, the documentary about the late Indigenous musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, was awarded best feature documentary.
Angourie Rice won the award for best lead actress for her performance in Ladies in Black, a film that she said was “about what girls can do when they’re supported and encouraged, and I’ve been supported and encouraged my entire life and I’m so grateful for that”. Simon Baker won the award for best supporting actor in Breath, an adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel that was also the actor’s directorial debut.
The ceremony was punctuated by tributes to Bryan Brown, who was announced as the recipient of the prestigious Longford Lyell award earlier this month.
“I wanted to be an actor because I didn’t want a career,” said Brown after receiving the award. “I ended up with a career.”
Selling Houses Australia took out the award for best lifestyle program, Australian Survivor: Champions vs Contenders won best reality series and The Weekly with Charlie Pickering won best entertainment program.
Warwick Thornton accepts the Aacta award for best film for Sweet Country. He called calledAustralia’s detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island ‘disgustingand childish and ridiculous’. Photograph: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images for AFI
The ABC TV miniseries Riot won best telefeature or miniseries, best lead actor forDamon Herriman and best actress in aTV drama for Kate Box, right. Photograph:Mark Rogers/ABC