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Amazing True Story Behind 'The Sapphires'

//chris odowd sapphires

Mar. 23 2013, Updated 10:44 a.m. ET

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A Dreamgirls-like real-life story is the inspiration for The Sapphires, the Aussie movie that garnered a 10-minute standing ovation when it debuted at Cannes last year.

In the film - that opened Friday - follows three Aboriginal sisters and their cousin when they win a competition to perform a paid show in Vietnam for American troops.

The Sapphires was co-written by Tony Briggs, whose mother, Laurel Robinson was one of the original Sapphires, as well as his aunt, Lois Peeler.

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Before leaving for Southeast Asia, Robinson had to ask her mother to sign legal documents granting her permission to leave Australia to perform, a legal requirement because she was younger than 21.

“At that time, Aboriginal people were only just granted citizenship,” Briggs tells The Daily Beast.

“We were only just counted as human beings, literally. We were classified as flora and fauna.

“Being able to sign papers to allow her daughter, who is Aboriginal, to travel anywhere outside of Australia was very new and fresh,” he continues. “Mum didn’t have any idea it was quite a momentous occurrence.”

With the help of Robinson, Briggs was able to craft together her story, albeit through different characters.

“A lot of what you see on screen comes from my personal memories,” Briggs says. “They’re snippets in a way of what I remember as a young boy growing up. Really good memories like the story of my mother and the memories especially with music.”

And Briggs hopes that the fun movie makes audiences smile and educates them further about Aboriginal people.

“I hope they get a sense of joy and understanding of who Aboriginal people are,” he says, “and walk away from it with a smile on their faces."

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