My mum Barbara is unapologetic. She has the courage to stand up for herself without fear of being disliked for not being “friendly enough”. She’s staunch because she’s had to be – as a dark- skinned Aboriginal woman. Mum knows who she is and what she believes in. That’s been grounding for me. It taught me who I was and where I stood in my community and has made me feel indestructible.
My family has always had trouble saying, “I love you” or “I’m proud of you,” so it’s been really beautiful watching my mum become more vulnerable in recent years. I remember when she came to the Cannes Film Festival for The Sapphires premiere in 2012. My mum doesn’t cry unless it’s a funeral, but she was beside herself with tears watching the lm. It was her way of telling me she’s proud of me. Now she’ll say, “You were wonderful, my daughter.”
Actress Ursula Yovich
I saw actress Ursula in the stage version of The Sapphires when I was 17, and she was electric. When she started singing the first few notes of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, my heart burst. I had never seen such a powerful presence on stage – and she was little and brown like me! It was the first time I’d seen an empowered Aboriginal woman in a play, and it resonated so strongly within me. I was screaming like a mad Beatles fan.
In my third and final year at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, Ursula recommended me for a role in the show Yibiyung at the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney because she was heavily pregnant and couldn’t do it. That was my big start. Knowing that she had recommended me was such a vote of confidence and belief.
When it came to casting the role of my mother in my film Top End Wedding, Ursula was a natural choice. She’s so compelling to watch, and when you sit down with her, it feels like she’s lived a thousand lives before this one. She’s a presence. You can’t help wanting to hug her and never let her go.
American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
I’m a bit exhausted by the state of the world, but American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gives me hope. She fights for things like environmental justice and talks about immigration and the effects of colonisation. She breaks these ideas down to make them accessible to everyone and opens the halls of power to those of us outside.
Plus, she has nerves of steel. She stares down men twice her age who have twice her wealth and patronise her with comments like, “I really admire your energy for someone who’s got such a lack of experience.” She takes it on the chin and brushes it off. To see her back herself even when her capability is questioned because she’s a woman of colour is inspiring. I know what it feels like to be made to feel inferior, but looking at Alexandria reminds me that I am smart enough, talented enough and capable enough – I don’t have to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy.
You’ve gotta love her ferocity. And how she wears hoop earrings and listens to Lizzo. She’s a real person, not someone pretending to be real. Hero.
Miranda Tapsell photographed by Johnny Diaz Nicolaidis.
This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of marie claire.