Miranda Tapsell is the author of Top End Girl.
What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism should be about thinking outside of yourself and your needs. It is about prioritising the voices of women who have second or third glass ceilings to break as well.
Was there a particular moment you can pinpoint that was crucial to the development of your perspective on feminism, and what it means to be a woman writer?
I have to admit I really struggled with the concept of feminism as a young woman—because while I know how much it elevated me, I don’t know how much the concept has lifted up my grandmother or my mother. The impression I got from the hardships they had to overcome were that doors that had opened up for some women had not opened for them. So for the movement to truly work today, the optics in which it centres itself on needs to be much, much broader.
Writing Top End Wedding with Josh Tyler made me embrace the inclusive ideas of feminism that I believe in. I’m highly aware that the genre is notorious for sending the wrong message to young women, messages such as ‘no matter how badly a man treats you, you have to take him back because it’s better than being alone’. As a result, we wanted to show a realistic couple where, as much as they might frustrate each other at times, they respect and care for one another. What mattered to Josh and I was that this couple were their own people outside of the relationship—that their relationship was something special but it didn’t complete them. Whatever was going to fulfil them was outside of their love for one another, but they were going through it together. Which is kind of what you hope for in a life partner, right?
The work that I’m really passionate about making—and which resonates most with me—centres women, particularly Black and Brown women. When they are shown to me on a page, stage or screen in all their glory, I gain a greater understanding of who I am and how I see the world around me. I see the value in how people understand each other better when art invites people into a world where the majority hasn’t been a part of. Working with the LGBTGQI community in Darwin and Wurramiyanga during the film also reminded me that I can afford to be way more inclusive in my work. Making Top End Wedding taught me that my craft is only going to get better the more I listen and learn from others.
Writing has helped me evolve as a woman because it’s helped me with what I want to say and how I want to say it. I hate getting caught in the weeds with people, especially online—especially when trolls ask why they should care about minority groups that constantly get left behind. It ends up being a waste of my time, not theirs. I take my voice very seriously; being a writer means I can allow my work to not only celebrate the people who don’t get heard or seen, but shine a light on the conversations I believe our society should be having.
Memoir is a lot of work in self-reflection. When did this level of introspection begin for you, and how did it culminate to become Top End Girl?
Only when I wrote it! No, I lie. I am a major overthinker so putting my thoughts on the page really cleared things up in my head. It also put me in a very vulnerable place, but I think since I was being honest about how I felt, it ultimately empowered me. I think the toughest thing was starting on a blank page. I remember hating everything I had written, and my husband James said to me ‘Hate to tell you this babe, but that’s the life of a writer.’ So I really had to learn to be kind and say to myself, ‘Okay, you’re getting stuck here. You’re just going to have to circle back to this later.’
In Top End Girl, you write, ‘I felt like, if I was to pass, I had to give up everything that made me confident.’ How do you think you have reconciled this so far in your career?
Ava DuVernay once mentioned in an interview that she identifies as a Black female filmmaker because her gaze is what is going to inform her work. My own identity as an Aboriginal woman informs the way I approach the characters I play and the stories I write. It took me years to realise that I didn’t have to abandon my race or gender to be an actor or a writer—that it increased my empathy and curiosity in other walks of life. How can anyone possibly understand someone else when they don’t have any self-awareness?
I tried divorcing myself from my identity in my twenties and I hated myself. I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror and I stopped taking up the space I deserved. My artistry has only improved when I truly embraced who I was.
What future(s) do you see for art and media led and produced by and for First Nations women?
Well, I certainly don’t want it to slow down! I worry in these times that people will be scared to make bold choices on Australian stage and screen. I want the number of Black creatives at the helm of Black work to grow—so much so that non-Indigenous collaborators in the space become aware of the moments they need to step back. Even if I don’t live to see it, I would love the space in Australian stories to be open enough that anything that is not led by a straight White male isn’t considered niche.
Which women and non-binary writers do you think everyone should read?
I love a wide range of genres so the books I’ve read have varied but I’ve gravitated towards the work of Black and Brown writers of late. My favs last year and this year have been Melissa Lucashenko, Alison Whittaker, Tara June Winch, Anita Heiss, Melanie Cheng, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Yasmin Abdel-Magied, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Yomi Adegoke, Elizabeth Uviebinené, Bernadine Evaristo, Sandhya Menon, Jasmine Guillory, Talia Hibbert and Helen Huang. If you aren’t familiar with their work, I highly recommend you look them up, but I have great taste so you should just do yourself a favour and buy their books. It’s the best way to spend isolation!