Length: 104 minutes
Starring: Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Emma Watson
Director: Jim Loach
Location: filmed in Adelaide, South Australia
Brief studio synopsis (pre-release)
Oranges and Sunshine tells the story of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, who uncovered one of the most significant social scandals in recent times: the forced migration of children from the United Kingdom – up to 130,000 children as late as 1970. It was a dirty secret shared by the Governments of UK, Canada and Australia. These are children who had been given up for adoption by single mothers, ashamed to admit they had had a child out of wedlock. The children themselves were told their mothers had died and were told they would have a better future in another country and especially Australia, the land of oranges and sunshine. Children, some as young as four, were sent to children’s homes on the other side of the world. Many were subjected to appalling abuse. They were promised oranges and sunshine, they got hard labour and life in institutions. The film tells the story of Margaret who almost singlehandedly, and against overwhelming odds and with little regard for her own well-being, reunited thousands of families, brought authorities to account and worldwide attention to an extraordinary miscarriage of justice.
Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:
- What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
- What themes are explored?
- What assumptions were embedded in the story?
- What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
- Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
- What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?
The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.
Mrs Humphreys begins her work by delving into the case of one of the children who sought her help in finding the birth mother. At that time, the migration program was not public knowledge, and Mrs Humphreys simply followed the leads as far as they went with quiet determination and tenacity. As she got closer to uncovering this secret government program she encountered threats on her life and resistance from government.
How far can one person go in pursuing justice? What examples do we have? How well are their stories told that in turn inspire others to persist rather than stand down? What are some of the challenges of our time that require persistence, determination and resilience to pursue justice? How might one person’s endeavours be more effective by building a community for change? What groups might these be in Adelaide, or Australia, or globally?
‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing’(Edmund Burke) (* note: original quote said men – I’m sure today he’d be ok with ‘people’!)
How could such an event have happened in a so-called civilized society? How could the forced migration of so many children and the separation from birth mothers be kept secret? People in government circles knew – leaders, decision makers and those who implemented the policy through administration. Good people, who were caught up in a program devised by a few, and who failed to challenge and question. What held them back? Complacency, inadequacy, fear of retribution, or loss of employment? It is clear that those who are ‘good’ in our world outnumber those who are ‘evil’, and yet there are so many examples and ways in which ‘evil’ prevails. It is not the numbers themselves that count when evil prevails, but whether those who claim to be ‘good’ are willing to stand up and take a stand for what they know to be right. Discuss.
On this question, a re-read of the ‘sheep and the goats’ in Matthew 25:31-46 offers an intriguing insight. Those who are ushered into the kingdom are those who are a bit bewildered to be recognized as doing ‘good’ – they have simply responded to need that they saw before them, little realising that in doing so for the ‘least of these’ they do it for the Son of Man himself. Those who are sent away are those who would do good if someone but pointed out to them where such need existed – the ‘would have’ and ‘could have’ sort of people. Mrs Humphreys is an example of an everyday hero who sees a need and holds onto the pursuit of justice wherever it leads and for however long is required.
Abuse of children
Children have historically been those who are the ‘least of the least’. The children in the migration program were used as slave labour. They were abused. They had their identity stolen from them, and a severing of the relationship with their mothers. We live in a comfortable society far removed from many contemporary examples of children being put to work too early. We are complicit because we benefit from their labour, whether it is in sweat shops, chocolate production etc. How much do we know about their situation? How does it change our consumption of goods? What do we know about Fair Trade campaigns that highlight some of these issues, or other campaigns on behalf of children? How does it invite advocacy to bring about change? How might we respond to opportunities to make a difference in these children’s lives?
(note: some may also wish to discuss the Government policy that resulted in ‘the stolen generations’)
We in Australia cannot disassociate ourselves from child labour. Children of female outworkers (usually poor migrant female workers from Asia), assist their mothers in the production of garments in sweatshop conditions. While children are not usually employed by contractors, they do work long hours alongside their parents or other siblings, working on industrial sewing machines after school, until late at night and during school holidays. There are campaigns raising this issue in Australia and seeking change in condition for both the children and their mothers. How might you be part of advocacy programs such as this?
© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.