Comic take on clash of cultures

p2231-8MMM-crowdAbove and bottom:  Trisha Morton-Thomas as Lola in scenes from the series and below right, as herself, in her hometown last week.

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

“Potentially everybody” will be offended by the “politically incorrect” new black comedy out of Alice Springs, 8MMM. But its writer / producer Trisha Morton-Thomas, who also plays one of its lead characters, has “great faith” in the humour of the people in Alice Springs. Their reaction to the six-episode series, which goes to air on the ABC starting April 29, is what she most cares about.

 

She’ll be able experience that very directly when locals get a preview free public screening of Episodes One and Two next Sunday evening, April 26. The production looked first at hiring a theatre for the screening but plumped instead for the Town Council lawns – “so that whatever criticism comes, comes from the entire spectrum of my home town, regardless of whether they live in the town camps or the golf course, rather than a little select group of people”.

 

p2225-Trisha-Morton-T-2Whether they love it or hate it, Morton-Thomas expects that the Alice audience will recognise itself in the story: “Even if the characters are a little heightened, I think we capture the essence of Alice Springs and the type of people who come here quite well.”

 

The setting is in an Aboriginal radio station and the three ‘M’s are “the missionaries, mercenaries and misfits” – white – bent on saving their Aboriginal colleagues from themselves. It’s hard yakka, both the saving and the being saved!

 

It may be a fictional world but the story-lines are drawn from real life. The idea for the series came when Morton-Thomas was sitting one day with Rachel Clements – her partner in Brindle Films – and friends, laughing about their experiences of working in various Central Australian organisations and coming up against the three ‘M’s.

 

“It’s what locals laugh about here, they point fingers at one another, you’re the missionary, you’re the misfit!”

 

Not long after, the ABC launched a callout for their Sacred Cows initiative, looking for politically incorrect comedy. Brindle Films put in a proposal and the next thing they heard was “congratulations, we want to go with this”. That was four years ago.

 

Together with Danielle MacLean, Sonja Dare and some savvy script editors, Morton-Thomas threw herself into the writing.

 

p2231-8MMM-DJ“I had some of the script editors saying, ‘Nobody would do that’, and I’d say, ‘Actually, they do! And that’s why I’m putting it in the script, because either I’ve seen it or somebody has told me about it.’ 80% to 90% of this series is based on actual experiences of people in Alice Springs. People have been really generous in giving me permission to use their stories, which they’d tell me, killing themselves laughing.”

 

Not all of the laughs come at the expense of whitefellas. Jampajinpa (Benjamin Weitmann), the DJ-in-training (pictured left), is so proud of being black he’s “permanently dressed like an Aboriginal flag”, while Milly (Elaine Crombie), the receptionist, is reluctant to answer the phone or send an email lest she break a nail “or heaven forbid, a smile”.

 

The radio station setting gave the writers the opportunity of grappling with a rich range of stories, sending their characters off to a repatriation ceremony, to Canberra to talk to PM, on a human rights march or to inquire into health, housing, morals. But don’t worry, you’re not going to be ‘educated’: “It’s not my job to educate, that’s our schooling system’s job. This is just a social comment from me , it’s ‘for your information’. And if you’re interested in learning more, go away, pick up a book, we’re the most written about culture in the world!

 

“Australians are highly schooled but poorly educated with respect to this country and to Aboriginal people in this country. You just have to look at Alice Springs Community Forum, which is one of my favourite sites on Facebook, to see how ignorant people are, how ill-informed they are. That irks me. I truly don’t believe this is a racist country, but it’s a very ignorant country

 

“If you’re not being taught the truth about this country at school, it’s up to you to pick yourself up and go away and study it, or learn something about it on your own. If you’re constantly swallowing what the media and anyone in control is giving you, then you’re never going to be free, as an individual or as a society. You have to be thinking.

 

“How many people on the Alice Forum engage with Aboriginal people on a personal level, sit down and have yarn with them. They don’t. They’re just happy to drive past and make a judgement of them based on the colour of their skin, and that’s wrong, that’s wrong anywhere. You hear the catch-cry all the time, that there’s good and bad with every people, but it’s the truth!

 

p2231-8MMM8MMM uses the characters to deal with these issues, like Dave [the Training Manager who doesn’t think Aborigines can be trained, played by Geoff Morrell, pictured right]. ‘Been here for 60,000 years and they’ve done nothing with the place!’ As an Aboriginal person you hear that constantly. ‘Well, you‘ve been here for 200 years and you’ve dug everything up, you’re destroying our country!’”

 

It’s that clash between cultures that 8MMM plunders for its laughs. Humour is part of Morton-Thomas’ daily life, but it’s also part of everyday Aboriginal culture:

 

“It’s funny that people expect us to be so solemn and serious. You spend time with Aboriginal people – we are laughing all the time, even though the most atrocious things happen to family, we still have this great capacity to be able to laugh. It’s the only way we can survive. It doesn’t overcome grief, but you live with it this way.”

 

Morton-Thomas has had her own share of grief. Many will remember her pain and rage following the coronial inquest into the death of her nephew, Kwementyaye Briscoe, in the Alice Springs watch-house. That was two years ago. Morton-Thomas was already deep into the 8MMM journey and she doesn’t resile from its embrace of comedy.

 

“It’s how my culture deals with tragedy, with laughter. It’s something I truly admire about my people, even if at times it’s cringe-worthy. You wonder why you laugh, it’s so cruel.”

 

Inevitably there are portrayals of police in 8MMM. Morton-Thomas thinks she has been very fair to them: “I could have portrayed them as just hostile, but there’s a mixture, and I think it is a pretty balanced mixture in the police and in the community.”

 

 

Some locals might show their worst selves on Facebook, but others’ much better selves have been revealed in the embrace of the production:

 

“Alice Springs is like that. So many people were so generous with their time and their knowledge of this area and their particular knowledge of film-making. The Mayor has been behind it 100% from the start. So many great people in this town wanted to help.”

 

The public screening will be Morton-Thomas’s chance to say thank you to the ‘better selves’.

 

 

p2231-8MMM-Lola

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10 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Alex Hope
    Posted May 10, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Joyce it is dumbarse not dumbass, that is a stupid donkey!

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  2. Ian Rose
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    What a great show 8MMM is and what a superb article.
    Thank you for telling Trisha Morton-Thomas’s story about it so well and thank you ABC for being the only production company to have the guts to support such brilliant programming.

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  3. Nimby
    Posted April 27, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    @ Sandy: I agree, the ABC is more commie than comedy. The truth cannot be told in all its glory as it is probably offensive (and funny).
    The ABC would be pitiable, but its our money.
    Let’s make it pay for view. The results will be very funny indeed 🙂

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  4. Square Eyes
    Posted April 27, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Sensible Steve sounds like someone who wears his pants up under his armpits, he’s just so sensible – at first glance.
    However, if the series didn’t offend then surely it would fail and so Steve seems to be wishing failure on the ABC by warning off a potential viewer.
    Humour is not the forte of the ABC and it will almost certainly fail as most of their intended audience is probably right here on this forum.
    I am a devotee of just about anything on TV including the weather channel. But I cannot see myself watching this show with any great interest. Now what’s the weather going to be like on these viewing dates?

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  5. The Barkly Magpie
    Posted April 24, 2015 at 10:59 am

    I am hoping this leads to a spate of comedy shows based in Central Australia.
    Who wouldn’t want to watch The Real Housewives of Yuendumu, for example?
    Tennant’s Next Top Model and Wife Swap Trucking Yards would just rate their socks off.
    Dunno about The Biggest Coconut Dog, though, that may be a foregone conclusion.
    And I can’t go to Hell for that one, I’m in Tennant so I’m already there.

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  6. Sensible Steve
    Posted April 24, 2015 at 6:46 am

    Re Sandy: The Biggest Loser is back on commercial TV, watch to your heart’s content. PS … just a hint, there’s now a new fangled device called the off button. Hope this helps with your anger management.

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  7. Joyce van Dijk
    Posted April 24, 2015 at 12:31 am

    I agree with Trisha about some people on the forum, some can’t even spell correctly (mixing up bought and brought and the list goes on!) Shows what dumbass people they are, who think they know it all.
    I am really excited I can’t wait to watch this new show, it’s going to be good, comedy is a great way to address political issues.
    Good on you guys, many blessings from a Dutch person that willbecome an Aussie soon, giving up my Dutch nationality because I feel so blessed in the best country in the world.

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  8. Kamara
    Posted April 23, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Can’t wait for this show! Sounds great and funny. Trisha Morton Thomas – well done yaye, you too deadly.

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  9. Sandy
    Posted April 22, 2015 at 11:34 am

    This article started out well and I half believed it until I read that the ABC were running it.
    The only joke here is, as usual, the ABC.

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  10. Michael L
    Posted April 21, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Does the Alice Springs News have a role? If not, what a tragedy!

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