Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, The (1978): Schepisi’s Period Drama, Indicting Racism in Australia

Based on the novel by Thomas Keneally, which was inspired by actual events, Fred Schepisi’s period drama is a shocking indictment of racism inflicted on the indigenous people of Australia.

Though made in 1978, the film was released in the U.S. two years later. Critical support by major reviewers did not help the commercial prospects of the movie, but it established Fred Schepisi as a major talent to watch.

The story is set in 1900, just before Australia became a federation independent of the U.K. The hero, Jimmie (Tommy Lewis), is a half-white, half-aborigine young man raised by a Methodist minister, an outsider who doesn’t fully belong to any group. (What sociologists may describe as a marginal man).

Feeling outcast among the aborigines, Jimmie moves to the city and gets a job working for a white family. When a white girl at the estate becomes pregnant, people hold that Jimmie is the father. To spare the girl’s honor, Jimmie marries her and is allowed to live with her on the estate.

However, after the child is born, everyone realizes that the father was a white man, not Jimmie. Though he is still willing to accept the child and stand beside his wife, his employers now feel that he married a white girl under false pretenses, and they bar him from the estate.

Forbidden to see his wife and fired without receiving his pay, Jimmie finally explodes in a fury of violent revenge and brutal rampage.

To Schepisi’s credit, the film is directed in a clean, straightforward manner, which shows respects for the material without exploiting it as a melodrama or preachy “problem” picture.

In depicting the mistreatment of the aboriginal tribes via sexual and physical abuse, social subjugation, and economic domination, “The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith” offer interesting and inevitable parallels to the ways that Native Americans were mistreated by the White estblishment in the past.

Schepisi’s original cut of this film runs 122 minutes, though it was distributed in a shortened version of 108 minutes.

Running time: 122 Minutes.

Directed and written by Fred Schepisi