“I’d rather be having a croissant and a little espresso in Paris or walking my French bulldog in New York City…
“I don’t need credibility from my country any more, I just need them all to be quiet. If they have nothing intelligent to say, please don’t speak to me any more.”
Melissa George said those words to the Sun Herald‘s Christine Sams back in 2012.
The actress had just come off the set of The Morning Show, and was irritated that the hosts had wanted to talk only about her days on Home And Away, 16 years before. Sams was the first journalist she spoke to and George let off the kind of steam that would put a whole nation offside.
Australians love to see our own smashing goals in Hollywood. We will claim you as an Aussie long after your accent has faded and your passport's expired. But criticise your roots? Get too big for your boots? We are over you. You are dead to us. Let's hope you don't need us some time in the future, because hell, we wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire.
Right now, Melissa George is on fire.
She is a domestic violence victim. She is a mother of two tiny boys. She is unable to leave the country she's living in - France, excellent espressos and all - with her children. She is tied for life to John David Blanc, the man who knocked her out by pushing her head into a door and then smashing her face on a metal coat stand. The man who was supposed to love her who left her soiled, bloodied and bruised and vomiting into a Parisian police station bin at 3am.
And now, Melissa George is asking for help from the very people who she once dismissed.
Exactly what help she's asking for was not explicitly spelled out in her Sunday Night interview with Steve Pennells last night, but she says, "I just want my country to help me get home and to see this crazy crap we're going through. I need someone to understand what happened."
Bad luck, Melissa, because apparently, our memories are long and our hearts are cold.
There's been the predictable backlash on social media about George's comments today. Comments like:
'Care factor ZERO... her arrogant attitude to Australia in the past, now she wants help?!!! Pfttttt.'
'Melissa George wanted Oz to 'shut up' now she needs our help? Domestic violence is unacceptable. So's hypocrisy.
The subtext of much of the coverage picking over her story is this, as it almost always is: What did she do to bring this on herself? And: Well, she's an idiot, she doesn't deserve our sympathy.
Many of us watching Sunday Night would have had the same, uncomfortable feeling of trying to pick holes in her story. Wanting an excuse not to see her as the victim of a violent man, but as someone who could have prevented this God-awful mess.
Listen: Sally Faulkner is another Australia woman embroiled in an international custody fight. (Post continues after podcast.)
It's what we're always looking for, sometimes unconsciously, whenever we hear a victim's story. What did they do wrong? How could that not be me?
But there also would have been many, many women watching television last night who saw glimpses of themselves in the story she told. Sure, we didn't meet a handsome Parisian millionaire at the BAFTAS. Sure, we didn't go to live in a Paris penthouse, and sure, we probably weren't confronted with a contract that spelled out the whys and wheres of the children she wanted and he didn't. They must be circumcised, they must be raised in France...
George refused to sign, but she had her babies all the same. Raphael, in 2014, followed by Solal a year later.
When she said, “I have a problem. And my problem is that I know things are not good. But don’t worry, it’s gonna be good tomorrow. It’s not good today, but tomorrow you’re gonna be OK," she was expressing the sentiment that millions of women before her have shared when they are preparing to give a controlling man the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, it's going to be okay.
For Melissa George, it wasn't okay. As is now well-documented, the troubled relationship came to an ugly head one night September last year when, after a fight over Blanc being noisy when she was trying to sleep, he assaulted her, and she fought back.
It was the encounter that changed everything, as it must. George left Blanc, and now they are trapped in a bitter custody battle. She is literally trapped, since she can't leave the country with her children. While theoretically, she can fly to LA or London or Sydney to work, she knows that while she is gone, her children are with the man who left her bruised, battered and unconscious.
The man who sends her abusive text messages and has the power to ground a plane she boarded with the children earlier this year. The man whose lawyer used to represent the former French President. Nicholas Sarkozy. In short, a rich and powerful man with all the backing of the establishment of his own country.
So yes, she could leave her little boys with him and go to a film set in another part of the world for weeks on end, but would you?
Even now, in 2017, women like George - and Rachael Taylor before her - have a lot to lose by speaking out about domestic violence, because we still insist on attaching blame and shame to privileged victims bold enough to speak out.
Maybe we don't like Melissa George. Maybe she was rude about us once. Maybe she was embarrassed by her beginnings, and wasn't gracious enough to hide it. But she's in trouble. She's up against it.
And maybe, in this instance, she's that most Australian of heroes — the underdog.
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