Both No Sugar, written by Jack Davis and Once Were Warriors directed by Lee Tamohori use a number of different themes to present extensively similar criticisms of society. In the play No Sugar, an indigenous family depicts the injustices and problems they face with both the white man and themselves. Also, in Once Were Warriors we see a Maori family struggling to cope with the harsh life they face in their run-down community overrun by gangs and crime.
In both texts, the audience sees colonialist policies in extreme poverty, substance abuse, racism, violence and the effects of disintegration of the family. A major theme that is brought to light in Once Were Warriors and No Sugar is the effects of colonialism. In both texts, the characters endure racist policies and are exploited by the “white man laws” and as a consequence left disenfranchised from society. In Once Were Warriors, Tamohori contrasts Jake against Beth to illustrate how the loss of one’s pride and tradition ultimately leads to their downfall.
Jake is described as a “slave” and is clearly a victim to the laws imposed from the white invasion, opposed to Beth, who knows of a better life, involving family culture and traditions rather than crime and alcoholism; the two key reasons leading to Jake’s demise. Similarly, in No Sugar, we see the effects of colonialism take its toll on the characters. Due to the paternalistic role cast upon the aboriginal people by those in authority such as A. O. Neville and the Chief Protector of Aboriginals, the characters resort to crime to get by.
This is apparent when Jimmy is sent away to jail for months on end and being denied any communications between him and his family, brought about by the controlling laws cast upon the indigenous population at the time. Similarly, both texts present this criticism of society through demonstrating the affect these incidents have on all the characters. In No Sugar and Once Were Warriors, another criticism of the dominant society is its capacity to marginalize its native people. In No Sugar, this is evident in the majority of times the Aboriginal family is in contact with the local Sergeant and Constable.
Jimmy: “Six months! I can do that on me fuckin’ head. ” Sergeant: “I’ll see what I can do. ” In this scene, Jimmy and Sam have been jailed in the Northam police station. This scene, and many like it which follow, demonstrates the injustices these characters face, and the paternalistic behavior of the government at the time. For this reason, the characters in the book were separated from their families and incarcerated for months and in that time, endured racist treatment while in prison. Comparable to this, Once Were Warriors depicts a racist society in a similar manner and through similar circumstances.
The Heke family reside in a slum on the outskirts of the city. The family occupies a run-down government funded house in a suburb where crime and conflict with the police is an everyday occurrence. Despite being in a similar situation to the characters in No Sugar, due to the time difference, the family in Once Were Warriors are looked after by a better understanding government and legal system. This is evident when we see the son Mark in conflict with the law for misbehavior, consequently being sent to a youth camp.
Unlike No Sugar, the camp that Mark is sent to proves to be a positive change in his life, one which ultimately alters the trends of his own family when he returns home. Compared to No Sugar, the racist treatment of these characters essentially produces a negative impact within their own lives and the lives of their families. Nevertheless, the creators purposely portray this theme in both texts to highlight it within our society, and in effect, through analyzing both texts the audience can notice significant gains that the characters from Once Were Warriors benefit from while the characters from No Sugar suffer as a result.
Exposed in both texts, as a result of lost pride, was the theme of substance abuse, namely alcohol. Within the two texts, alcohol abuse plays a significant role in only the lives of the men, ultimately determining their behavior towards the others. In Once Were Warriors, the presence of alcohol is apparent in the majority of scenes. The main character, Jake ‘The Muss’, relies on alcohol as a coping mechanism for the harsh, marginalized life he leads, but the affect it has on him and his family proves to be detrimental. A decisive example of this is the night that Gracie commits suicide subsequent to her uncle raping her.
Throughout the whole incident, Jake remains drunk and seems to be impassive to his daughter’s death. The next morning we see Jake, still with a bottle in his hand drinking away his troubles. No Sugar also portrays the theme of alcohol abuse; Jimmy Munday and Sam Millimurra, his brother-in-law have been drinking heavily and they begin to fight in a wild lumbering manner. The scene has a humorous tone – especially when Gran breaks up the fight, however on a serious level it expresses the problems the characters face because of their isolation and impotence.
In both texts, the theme of substance abuse is displayed intentionally to further depict the despair and disempowerment the characters face and the way in which their lives and the people around them are impacted upon. Highlighted in both texts was the way the indigenous characters, who were once proud people, become lowered to impotent helpless figures. As we see in Once Were Warriors, the unstable Jake used his fist to release the pain, anguish and frustration he feels; as Jakes wife Beth states, “You’re still a slave, to your fist, to your drink, to yourself. Likewise, in No Sugar, Jimmy is portrayed as a bitter character suffering the effect of extensive alcohol abuse.
In both texts, the creators include these characters to demonstrate the frustrating effects of life without power and what its like to be entirely disenfranchised from society as well as their traditional ways and culture. Throughout No Sugar and Once Were Warriors, Tamohori and Davis recognize the ‘mediator’ role that the women played – Beth and Gracie in Once Were Warriors and Gran and Milly in No Sugar.
A significant scene which reveals Beth’s function in the family occurs when she comforts Gracie – the only gentle soul amongst the tough family, subsequent to being physically abused by Jake. “[It] won’t be easy, just gotta find the money… we will, I promise”. This demonstrates the reassuring attitude Beth, as a mother, has towards her children despite the severe events that occur in the family, as well as the significant role in keeping her family strong and together.
In the same way, Gran displays the sense of comfort and conciliation in No Sugar. Unlike Beth, Gran produces this sense of comfort through constantly resorting to their own people’s traditional songs. The existence of Gran is paramount to the survival of those around her in that through her knowledge of traditional Aboriginal ways, she brings comfort, support and hope of a better future at times where something so out of reach seems possible.
The societies shown in Once Were Warriors and No Sugar are similarly presented in a critical light as both Davis and Tamohori demonstrate the conditions brought about by the effects of colonialism. Both texts also depict the power of women, and the hope they provide the surrounding characters for a better future. Both texts, intentionally, finish in a similar way in that the audience are instilled with a sense of hope that through reconnection with their heritage the characters may escape the control of the oppressive society they inhabit.