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The war over “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”

The war over “Rabbit-Proof Fence.” (photo)

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src=””>The treatment of Aborigines on-screen in Australia is a sensitive issue treated with a great deal more trepidation than, say, the way Native Americans are portrayed in American movies.

There’s even a standard film preface/warning that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should exercise caution when watching this program as it may contain images of deceased persons” — a nod to Aboriginal beliefs that if you capture the image of a person, you capture their soul, placing them in after-life limbo.

So it’s no surprise that a movie like 2002’s “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” the story of three aboriginal girls, kidnapped by a government agent, who walked back home, and, from a larger perspective, an indictment of past Australian treatment of aborigines, is capable of igniting controversy some seven years on.

Since its release, “Rabbit-Proof Fence” has become standard viewing in Australian history classes, making it a flash-point for the “History Wars” arguments about whether Australia’s settlement and colonization was benevolent, genocidal or in-between.

12172009_fabrication.jpgFor those inclined towards the former view, talk of genocide, forced displacement and all is a gross exaggeration tending towards a “black armband” view of history. Those on the other side speak disparagingly of the “white blindfold view.” And Noyce’s film — with Kenneth Branagh at his most villainous as a foul-intentioned government man — is definitely on the side of the sensitive liberals.

Conservative historian Keith Windschuttle is kicking the argument open again with his new book “The Fabrication of Aboriginal History,” prompting counter- and counter-counter claims with dizzying speed. He claims the 11 and 14-year-old girls in question were removed from their home because they were having sex with white men. Director Philip Noyce and screenwriter Christine Olsen quickly issued a counter-statement with opposing evidence from a later date. (Noyce called Windschuttle either “extremely lazy or just plain dishonest” for good measure.)

The mess spirals out from there even further, with conservative columnist Andrew Bolt citing a book written by one of the girls’ daughters as evidence, while the daughter of the other girl has her own response. It’s all very heated and more than a little unnerving.

12182009_rabbitprooffence4.jpgAs a non-historian, I can’t begin to parse the evidence, though it’s hard not to distrust Windschuttle the moment he starts claiming the villain in question only supported a “program to ‘breed out the color’ ” for the, uh, benevolent motive of “fostering the marriage of part-Aboriginal women to white men.” (Oh, so that’s why they called it “breeding out the color.” Problem solved.)

But mostly it’s heartening (and a bit chastening) to see a country undergoing a prolonged and serious debate about its own past without resorting (solely, anyway) to counter-cries of “fascist!” and “socialist” (or “America-hater” or “reactionary” or whatever). We should be so lucky.

[Photos: “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” Miramax, 2002]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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