Hero or Dupe: Jay Swan and the Ambivalences of Aboriginal Masculinity in the Films of Ivan Sen

Barry Judd

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    Cinema plays a critical role in the representation of the Australian nation, in shaping understanding of Australian values and determining popular ideas of who should belong and who should be excluded from participation in contemporary Australian society. Historically, the characters Australian film makers have portrayed as exemplars of the national type have overwhelmingly been white men, whose hyper-masculine, heteronormative, historical agency as explorer, pioneer, drover, soldier and sportsman have defined the nation building agendas of the settler colonial state. Aboriginal people were largely absent from Australian cinema and if portrayed at all they were represented as marginal, hostile, anomalous and out of time with the modernity and progress embodied in discourses of Australian nationalism. In recent decades the rise of Australian filmmakers who claim an Aboriginal identity has functioned to reposition the portrayal of Aboriginal people in Australian cinematic storytelling. This paper explores the work of Kamilaroi filmmaker Ivan Sen. Focusing on his noir-westerns Mystery Road (2013) and Goldstone (2016) this paper explores how Sen, through the central character of Aboriginal detective, Jay Swan, played by Arrernte actor Aaron Pedersen, develops a complex portrayal of contemporary Aboriginal masculinity in ways that asks hard questions about Australian national identity and contemporary race relations. Set in the Outback, a landscape central to notions of national identity, Sen’s films engage issues of Indigenous masculinity together with colonial dispossession, contemporary Aboriginal social and economic marginality, and the relations of power than maintain Aboriginal disadvantage. This paper asks if Jay Swan’s portrayal as a model of contemporary Indigenous masculinity makes him as Aboriginal hero, colonial dupe, or both?
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCinematic Settlers
    Subtitle of host publicationThe Settler Colonial World in Film
    EditorsJanne Lahti, Rebecca Weaver-Hightower
    PublisherTaylor & Francis
    ISBN (Electronic)978-1-003-05727-7
    ISBN (Print)9780367503833, 978-0-367-22998-6
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


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