Controversy over Chris Hemsworth filming Limitless at a sacred Native American site
Production company Nutopia and the National Parks Service say the permit was granted by relevant landowners and elders with cultural authority from all three tribes.
The dispute highlights the difficult terrain for filmmakers seeking permission from traditional owners to film and depict cultural practices on land.
Hemsworth management said the actor could not be reached for comment and referred questions to the production company. Ruth Shurman, an executive producer at Nutopia, said the production employed an Indigenous cultural consultant who delved deeply into the three nations, involved Thunggutti elders and dancers in the ceremony, and the Bellbrook mob was scheduled to attend but did not show up .
“Respecting Aboriginal culture has been a priority for our production team at every stage,” Shurman said.
A spokesman for the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service said written support for the filming, including the location at Wrights Lookout, came from Thunggutti Local Aboriginal Land Council, Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan Aboriginal Corporation in Coffs Harbor and Coffs Harbor Local Aboriginal Land Council been made available. Bularri and Coffs Harbor County Council declined to comment.
The Sydney Morning Herald and Age do not allege wrongdoing by Hemsworth or any person or entity involved in the project.
Limitless, available on the Disney+ streaming platform, is about health and longevity. The fifth episode about memories follows Hemsworth and his friend Otis Hope Carey, a man from Gumbaynggirr-Bundjalung, on a two-day bush walk. You’ll be shown trekking through dense eucalyptus forest and riparian rainforest punctuated by dramatic cliff faces, waterfalls and waterholes, ostensibly without modern navigational equipment.
The walk ends with a Welcome to Country at the beginning and a ceremony with Aboriginal dancers at the end.
Nutopia, Ahoy and the National Parks Service have all dismissed the suggestion that Serpentine was filmed. Ahoy said Serpentine was several kilometers from the filming location. The national park’s website lists Wright’s Lookout as a sacred site for men. Ahoy said the decision to use the lookout and allow a mixed-gender film crew onto the site was an agreement between the three nations involving initiated elders with strong cultural backgrounds.
“We have the right to practice our culture in our country and we do so with cultural safety and knowledge,” Ahoy said.
While the episode was about memory, the conflict has arisen in part because of the disruption of cultural memory caused by colonization.
The location was referred to in the TV show as “a common land between the three tribes,” but this is disputed. While it has traditionally been used by all three nations, the Thunggutti mob believe it to be their ancestral lands, with contracts for the other two mobs to access and use according to traditional lore. Ahoy said it was Anaiwan country.
The north-central coast was beset by border violence after the first wave of dispossession and was heavily colonized, with Aborigines being driven from their clan’s ancestral homelands and forced onto state and church reserves – or missions. People from different clans and nations were intentionally mixed, and government-sanctioned bans on cultural practices and the use of traditional languages. Residents could not leave the missions without permission from a government official.
The Aboriginal community at Bellbrook used to be one such mission.
The other question is who has the authority to speak for communities – a question that also arises in other areas such as mining and science. This idea of representation is at the heart of the debate about the voice of indigenous people in Parliament.
Thunggutti County Council Chairman Lenny Wright, who lives in Melbourne and instructed the chief executive to write the letter of support, said the filming had been discussed at a board meeting, but no one knew Wright’s lookout would be a filming location until later.
Thunggutti man Kenneth Major said Wright should have known it would be culturally appropriate to discuss the filming request with the wider community.
“Cultural responsibility does not go through the district administrator without the people,” said Major.
In emails viewed by this imprint, Thunggutti man and Bellbrook local Gus Holten wrote to production company Nutopia and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service expressing his community’s pain at the lack of notification or consultation.
Both the National Parks Service and the production company informed Holten that elders outside of the Bellbrook community gave them permission to film.
Holten said there was an ongoing problem with “self-appointed” elders who claimed they had the authority to speak for local communities.
“I don’t want to litter [Hemsworth], it is good that he wants to bring awareness of our culture to the world. He just has to do it right,” said Holten.
Holten said the scene filmed was a pseudo-ceremony consisting of “a bunch of dance groups with members who weren’t put on the right stage to enter such a place.” Holten said he knows Gumbaynggirr’s senior lorekeepers, who were also not notified or consulted in the process prior to filming at the site.
Holten said that due to the lack of cultural observation, no dancers from his own mob were present.
Indigenous human rights and policy adviser Jason Field, a Walbunja-Bidjigal man living on the NSW south coast, said mining companies in particular have been accused of inciting tension to get their way, but this type of dispute was common, even if you tried to get approval were real.
“What often happens is that there are multiple lines of authority and you think you’re doing the right thing, but if you follow one or even two lines, you’ll find situations where someone feels offended that they haven’t been consulted and feels like they should have been,” Field said.
Field said cultural heritage services in Australia operate in a marketplace and cultural rights can often conflict with “personal interests in terms of being able to earn an income for himself and his family”.
He said there are guidelines from the United Nations, such as the Nagoya Protocol, that could serve as a guide to best practice.
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https://www.smh.com.au/culture/tv-and-radio/it-was-very-disrespectful-dispute-over-chris-hemsworth-filming-at-sacred-site-20221019-p5br8k.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Controversy over Chris Hemsworth filming Limitless at a sacred Native American site