I have to say, I thought I would hate Bra Boys. A documentary about the much maligned surfing gang of the poverty-stricken Maroubra Beach community in Australia, made by the _Bra Boys _themselves, I expected a lot of glorification of violence, sexism, and machismo. Instead, the film portrays violence negatively and only to be used in self-defense, promotes tolerance and acceptance of all cultures, and tells a very compelling story about how surfing saved a great number of boys in Maroubra from broken and abusive homes, drugs, and prison.
As for the overt sexism, there wasn’t any. There were also no women in the film whatsoever, except for the saintly grandmother of the Abberton brothers, the brothers being the primary filmmakers and storytellers of the movie. Perhaps there was some kind of freak sewage spill, and no female children are born in Maroubra anymore? I don’t know. The lack of females is that extreme. I’d like to know, if the boys have surfing to save them, what do the young women of Maroubra have to save them from poverty, violence, and a surfing culture that entirely excludes them.
At any rate, Sunny Abberton tells the story (with help from some totally unnecessary narration from Russell Crowe) of how the Bra Boys were formed, how the police came to hate them (not their fault), how they fought with other gangs (the other gangs started it), how one of his brothers, Jai, came to be charged with murder (naturally, not his fault), and how they have helped to mend racial tensions in the area (they want credit for that). This is where the line between PR piece and documentary becomes blurry; these are some seriously unreliable narrators, after all, which does not entirely detract from the film.
There is a lot to be said about the power of those who have been disempowered getting the chance to tell their story with cameras in hand, a chance to redress wrongs by showing the systematic oppression of a population. Despite the shaky handheld recordings, the overly long running time, and the very narrow point of view, there is a really strong, affirming message underneath about banding together, the beauty of surfing, pride in one’s community, and overcoming some very formidable obstacles. Also, the footage of big, scary waves and incredibly daring surfing are just really fun to watch.
So, Bra Boys exceeded my expectations, and I spent a fairly entertaining hour and a half watching it (although I can’t promise the only real reason I was entertained was because it was decidedly better than I thought it would be). There are weaknesses here, yes, and they can make for a frustrating viewing, but the surfing and the waves, dude, on the big screen, they are just awesome.