Bridget McManus, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 November, 2022
Making a documentary in a cancel culture about someone who has been cancelled is a tricky business. Director Nel Minchin became acutely aware of this when she began sourcing interviews for her two-part series Folau.
The ABC documentary traces the rise and fall of Israel Folau, the former Wallabies star who ignited a political and ideological storm with his homophobic tweets first posted during the marriage equality campaign that led to his sacking by Rugby Australia in 2019.
Multiple research calls for the documentary went cold, including those to Sky News broadcaster Alan Jones, and to Folau himself. Former Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle declined. Others who opposed Folau’s religious tirade against the LGBTQI community questioned the relevance of the project.
“People asked ‘why would you do something like this when it was such a traumatic experience for people?’” says Minchin, whose credits include Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra and Matilda & Me, a behind-the-scenes documentary about the stage musical by her brother, Tim Minchin.
“This is a conversation that continues to come up in different ways. And not just about religion, but other areas where people are speaking their opinions that get shut down for whatever reason.”
She cites the seven Manly Sea Eagles players who refused to wear the team’s rainbow pride jersey in July, NRLW player Caitlin Moran’s tweet about the Queen’s death and the resignation last month of fundamentalist Christian Andrew Thorburn as CEO of Essendon Football Club.
“I hope what this film offers is a way of looking at this story with cold water poured over it,” says Minchin. “Actually taking a meticulous look at all the different elements that contributed to the debate and trying to understand where everyone’s coming from.”
Among those who agreed to take part is Salesi Tupou, the Folau family’s Mormon bishop. Tupou offers insight into the influence of Folau’s father, Eni, who left the Mormons to start his own church.
“It was about understanding where people come from,” says Minchin. “I don’t think it suggests we should sympathise [with Folau] as much as understand.”
From the world of rugby are Toutai Kefu, coach of the Tongan national team for which Folau now plays, former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and rugby player Samu Kerevi. LGBTQI voices include former Wallaby Dan Palmer, Yes campaigner Magda Szubanksi, artist Telly Tuita, former pastor Andre Afamasaga, director Taofia Pelesasa and University of Sydney professor Jioji Ravulo.
“These are people who are representative of the communities we are concerned about in terms of how these kinds of words can land,” says Minchin. “It was really important to ask them what their experience is growing up queer and heavily religious, but equally being of a Pasifika community in a new country, and what the role of church is in all that. And therefore, what their views are on Israel.
“Certainly, the voices that probably most need to be heard are those from the Pasifika community.”
Sports journalists Tracey Holmes, Jamie Pandaram, Jess Halloran and Georgina Robinson discuss Folau’s wrongful dismissal claim against Rugby Australia and the involvement of the Australian Christian Lobby against the backdrop of the Morrison government’s failed Religious Discrimination Bill. Folau’s lawyer, George Haros, provides fascinating legal context. What emerges is a moment in Australian history that is much bigger than the gifted sportsman himself.
“There’s not a single person I interviewed who knew the guy who told me he was a bad guy. And that comes from both sides of the fence,” says Minchin. “Whatever we think about religion, we need to explore what that means for people who live with a god in their lives. If you just land heavily on one side, then you’re not allowing conversation to flow.
“As a filmmaker, I would want people to be at a point where they can hear those voices and not be judged by them, and that’s on both sides. Maybe by being more gentle, you may offer an opportunity to shed light where perhaps light hasn’t been shed before.”
Folau screens on the ABC on Monday, November 21, at 8.45pm.
Read the original SMH article here