Dreaming in Motion - Mimi: Do you know any ‘real Aborigines’?

Dreaming in Motion - Mimi: Do you know any ‘real Aborigines’?
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following clip may contain images and voices of deceased persons
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Thornton not only pokes fun at the ignorance of conservative white purchasers of Indigenous art, but also exploits the paradigm of 'authentic Aboriginality’. The same ignorance Catherine (Sophie Lee) displays in relation to the culture that produced the art she has purchased for investment purposes, extends to the racist stereotypes that persist in dominant culture about the concept of 'real’ or 'authentic Aborigines’.

Summary by Romaine Moreton

A clever film from director–writer Warwick Thornton (Kaytej), that satirises the Indigenous art industry, poking fun at white art connoisseurs who purchase Indigenous art purely for its investment value. Richard Bell (Kooma, Kamilaroi, Jiman, Goreng Goreng) won the 20th Telstra National Aboriginal Arts Award in August 2003, his winning entry was titled Scienta E Metaphysica (Bell’s Theorem), or Aboriginal Art Its a White Thing, and is an Indigenous artist’s perspective on the Aboriginal art industry satirised by Thornton in Mimi.

Indigenous art is a growth industry that came into prominence during the 70s, and implicit within the notion of authentic Indigenous art is also the idea of the authentic Aborigine. Thornton exploits the idea of the authentic Aborigine when Catherine (Sophie Lee), having bought two pieces of Indigenous art, one being a Mimi statue which mysteriously comes to life and haunts her apartment, asks her friend if she knows any authentic Aborigines who can get rid of the Mimi presence for her. In fact, Aboriginal art is required to have a certificate of authenticity to prevent fraudulent reproductions, and it is this correlation between the idea of an authentic Aborigine and authentic Aboriginal art that Thornton comically manipulates in this short film.

Thornton is a respected cinematographer as well as a writer–director of film. As a cinematographer, he worked on films such as Queen of HeartsRadiancePlains EmptyFlat and Buried Country. His other works include Green BushThe Old Man and the Inland Sea, and Photographic Memory: A Portrait of Mervyn Bishop.

Other films in the AFC Indigenous Branch drama initiative Dreaming in Motion are Black TalkFlatShit Skin and Turn Around (all 2002).

Mimi Synopsis

A short drama about a young Western art collector who gets more than she’s bargained for when she purchases Indigenous art pieces that include a Mimi statue and a painting of a barramundi.

Notes by Romaine Moreton

Education notes

This clip shows Catherine (Sophie Lee) terrified by a Mimi sculpture that has come to life in her apartment. Catherine surveys the bloodlike tracks that have appeared on the walls. Clearly frightened, she grabs a kitchen knife and tries to dial emergency services. She then confronts the Mimi but it remains inanimate. Later, the Mimi appears in the kitchen and starts rummaging in the fridge. It asks Catherine her name and when she screams it also screams in fright and runs away. Catherine then phones a friend and asks if they 'know any real Aborigines’. Jonathan (Aaron Pedersen) arrives, but when he sees the Mimi and it asks him his name he also screams.

Educational value points

  • According to the beliefs of Indigenous people from central Australia and Arnhem Land, Mimi are mischievous and capricious spirits who are believed to possess mystical powers and to live forever. Mimi taught the first Indigenous people in western Arnhem Land how to hunt and paint, and are often consulted by the people. Tall thin beings who live in the crevices of rocks and caves, Mimi speak the same language, observe the same ceremonies and are bound together by the same kinship system as the local Indigenous group.
  • The film explores the commodification of Indigenous Australian art, which is the strongest sector of Australia’s fine arts industry with an annual turnover of about $100 million a year in 2007. Investors have capitalised on the popularity of Indigenous art, and in some cases have been accused of profiteering from Indigenous artists. Catherine buys the Mimi sculpture and a bark painting as an investment, rather than for their artistic merit or cultural significance, thus continuing a Western tradition of the commodification of art.
  • Mimi mixes comedy with the conventions of the horror genre. The film features a single woman terrorised by a supernatural force that brings chaos to her everyday world. Jonathan should be the hero or 'expert’ who deals with this force and restores normalcy, but this expectation is humorously subverted by having him scream when confronted by a Mimi who speaks. The Mimi is both playful and malevolent, and while it is interested in helping itself to food from the fridge and is itself easily frightened, it also leaves blood-soaked tracks across Catherine’s wall.
  • A 1996 study, Unfinished Business: Australians and Reconciliation’, found that many non-Indigenous people believe that 'real Aborigines’ are those who live in remote areas and practise traditional culture. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission says that few Indigenous Australians are completely removed from or unaffected by their origins, families, lifestyles and cultures. Indigenous communities are diverse, just as they were prior to colonisation, and this is reflected in the diversity within Indigenous art.
  • The barramundi painting in this clip is done in the so-called 'X-ray’ style, an art form practised primarily by Indigenous people in Arnhem Land. The X-ray style depicts figures in which the internal organs and bones are visible. X-ray art includes sacred images of ancestral supernatural beings such as Mimi spirits, as well as fish and animals that are important food sources. It is a means by which Indigenous artists express an ongoing relationship with the natural and supernatural worlds. The X-ray image is created by painting a silhouette of the figure, often in white, and then adding the internal details in red or yellow.
  • Aaron Pedersen, who plays Jonathan, is an Arrernte man who grew up in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and was a television journalist before becoming an actor. Pedersen has appeared in television dramas such as HeartlandsWildsideWater RatsMDA and The Secret Life of Us. His film roles include Dead Heart (1997) and Dark Love Story (2004). Pedersen is critical of the under-representation of Indigenous Australians in film and television, and believes that there is a need for more Aboriginal-specific roles, as well as roles in which the Aboriginality of an actor is not central.
  • Sophie Lee began her career in television before moving into film. Lee first appeared in the television series The Flying Doctors, and also hosted the Bugs Bunny Show in the late 1980s, which was popular among both children and adults. She presented the program Sex in 1991. Her first film role was in Muriel’s Wedding (1994) as Tania, the 'friend from hell’, and this established her talent as a comedic actor, leading to roles in He Died with a Felafel in his Hand (1999), Holy Smoke (1998) and The Castle (1997). Lee was a member of the Melbourne band Freaked Out Flower Children.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Blackfella Films
Darren Dale, Rachel Perkins
Warwick Thornton
Warwick Thornton
David Gulpilil, Sophie Lee, Aaron Pedersen
Produced with the assistance of the Indigenous Branch of the Australian Film Commission, SBS Independent and the New South Wales Film and Television Office

Catherine surveys bloodlike tracks that the Mimi sculpture has made on the walls of her apartment. Clearly frightened, she grabs a kitchen knife and tries to dial emergency services.
Recorded phone message You have dialled 911. 911 is not the number for emergency services. 000 is the number for emergency calls. Please hold and we will connect you to the first available operator. 
Catherine wrenches open a cupboard door and confronts the Mimi sculpture, brandishing the kitchen knife at it, but it remains inanimate. She closes the cupboard door.

Later, the Mimi appears in the kitchen and starts rummaging in the fridge. Catherine hears it behind her while she drinks a glass of water at the sink. Terrified, she grabs a knife again, slowly turning around towards the sound.
Mimi sculpture Hello! What’s your name?
Catherine screams in fright and the Mimi sculpture also screams and runs away. The cupboard door slams behind it and then we hear it speaking and giggling.
Mimi sculpture Pink titty woman.

Catherine phones a friend.
Catherine Hey, I know it’s early but do you know any real Aborigines?

A young Indigenous man is outside her door, smoking. He rings the doorbell and Catherine lets him in after he drops his cigarette. He looks around, surveying the tracks left by the Mimi.
Jonathan Name’s Jonathan. Came as quick as I could. But, you know, blackfella time. Well, I have to know who your interior designer is.
Catherine points with the kitchen knife.
Catherine There.
Jonathan What, there? Pretty kinky, isn’t it?
Jonathan opens the cupboard door and looks at the Mimi.
Mimi sculpture Hey, what’s your name?
Jonathan screams in terror and the Mimi screams back at him.