The film presents an urban Aboriginal experience, one that differs from on-screen representations which typically manifest ethnographic or documentary-style realism, or antiquated archetypes such as the ‘noble savage’. This urban experience, as Moffatt describes, was more akin to her own upbringing in Brisbane during the 1960s and 70s.
Nice Coloured Girls centres on the history of relations between Indigenous women and white men. Moffatt creates two histories in the film. She juxtaposes, on the one hand, the girls being sleazed onto by a married white man – whom they refer to as ‘Captain’ – in the bars of modern-day Sydney; and, on the other hand, historical diary entries by captains and lieutenants from the early colonial period, detailing first encounters with Aboriginal women. The modern-day Captain buys the women drinks, whereas the historical captain decorates the women with beads and buttons.
There is no synchronised dialogue throughout the film. The voices of the three women are diffuse and disembodied, and their thoughts are presented through subtitles. In contrast, the diary entries occur as voice-over. Images of colonial paintings, as well as performance elements, are intercut throughout the film in a way which adds to the contrasting symbolism and makes us contemplate the two histories – the old and the recent.
Nice Coloured Girls is a deliberately controversial film, with its complex portrayal of contemporary Indigenous women. It challenges assumptions by placing agency back in the hands of the women rather than representing them as victims. Furthermore, it reminds us that we must understand the past better, if we are to address the present.