Servant or Slave
R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (6th March 2017).
The Film

“Servant or Slave” (2016)

On January 1st 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was established, with the six self-governing colonies of Australia united as one with a new federal government and a new constitution. In the first census, there were 3,773,801 people counted in all of Australia, divided by 1,977,928 males and 1,795,873 females. For the census, no Aboriginals were counted as it was a rule drafted in the constitution. The native Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders were considered second class citizens, or possibly less than citizens during the colonization of Australia and the discriminatory stance was kept. With the constitution the new government had full control over the native people’s lands, their money, their livelihood, and their futures, with many Aboriginals forced from their homes, separated from families, and worked for the white man with little or no pay, with wages withheld.

In order to essentially erase the native culture, many young children were forcibly taken from their families and placed into institutions. The schools served the purpose of assimilating the children into the new Australian culture. And for the children’s future it was essentially for service to the white man. Maids, cooks, servants, etc. were the only jobs available for them. In many cases their education was limited to the basics and forced in English only, they were mistreated and abused, and obviously were not allowed to see their families again. Whether the children were full Aboriginals or half-caste Aboriginals, their fates were the same. The institutions were part of the Aboriginal Protection Board which was ironically not protecting the Aboriginals but wiping their culture out by separating a generation of children from their roots.

It wasn’t until 1967 that the constitution was amended to remove the discriminatory census clause against Aboriginals, therefore making them citizens of the country and able to serve in government. Things may have changed but for the nearly 70 years of mistreatment and reparations cannot be put to words or money. Billions of dollars of money had been unpaid to the rightful Aboriginal citizens over the years and the government has done little in terms to repay the people, with many restrictions and people only able to receive a very small percentage if they chose to go through the hoops. There are people who are still alive today that experienced being taken from their families and forced to assimilate into the white schooled system. In “Servant or Slave”, five women that were part of the “Stolen Generation” are interviewed to share their experiences to the world. They share stories of not knowing their own culture, being lied to, stories of life in the institutions and as forced servants, and some of them are horrifying.

“Servant or Slave” is a documentary that cuts together interviews with the five women, interviews with historians, along with archival photos, footage and reenactment scenes. There is an even pacing of the material given, with each person having equal shares of screentime and not sugarcoating any of the stories or the historical aspects. While some of the stories such as the rapes, the whippings, and other abusive behavior is recounted by the interview participants, they are not graphically shown in reenactments but are suggested behind closed doors. During the slightly less than one hour runtime, the audience is treated to a side of recent Australian history that is not a main focus in the history textbooks. It is crazy to think that atrocities such as this existed in a time as recent as the twentieth century but looking at the 100 years as a whole, there were countless incidents including two world wars, mass genocides, religious wars, and much more to take place. The mistreatment of native Australians should not be ranked to be compared but placed together on the list of shameful government actions - and to this day, reparation money has not been evenly paid to the survivors of the descendants. As the end credits of the film states, hopefully “Servant or Slave” will raise a higher awareness and possible change.

Note this is a region 0 PAL encoded DVD which can play back on any DVD or Blu-ray player worldwide with PAL capability


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the original 2.35:1 (anamorphic) aspect ratio in the PAL format. Filmed in HD, the newly shot interviews are static shots with a single camera setup and look quite good with colors and sharpness of the subjects, with the focal length only pinpointed on the subjects and not the background. For the reenactment scenes, it is very reminiscent of a Terence Malick film with no dialogue and only voice overs, use of slow motion, jump cuts, and many references to nature. The colors and sharpness are similar in tone to the interviews with the short focal length but discernible with the slightly blue color palate. As for the vintage sources, the photos and the film interviews can be not as sharp or clear due to the materials. Overall it is a solid transfer of the film.

The film’s runtime is 57:15.

Screencaps are below:


English Dolby Digital 5.1
A 5.1 track is provided and it is a subtle but effective one, with music and sound effects for the left and right areas while dialogue is always centered. The rear surrounds are not fully used but only for subtle effects. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and there are no troubling issues of audio errors or dropouts.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a yellow font for the main feature. There were no troubles with the captioning. The song lyrics are also captioned.


Additional Interviews (8:17)
Some deleted interview segments are presented here with additional stories on where the wages of the Aboriginals went to and more. They are fully edited with cuts from interviews to photos and back.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Trailer (2:28)
The original trailer is provided here. It is also embedded below in this review.
in anamorphic 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


“Servant or Slave” is an unflinching look at the shameful history of how native Australians were treated in the early twentieth century from the people who experiences them. It is a recent historical document that should be seen by people not just of Australia but everywhere around the world, and the only issue may be that it is very short - way too short at its less than one hour runtime. Umbrella Entertainment gives the film a good presentation in image and sound with good, but short supplements. Very recommended.

The Film: B+ Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: B- Overall: B+


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