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Nakkiah Lui and Miranda Tapsell’s new podcast gives us a different perspective of Australian history.

In a world where history is often one-sided and voices are stifled, amplifying conversations that tell a different side of the story is a new kind of superpower.

That’s the thinking behind the new Audible Original podcast Debutante: Race, Resistance & Girl Power from playwright and actress Nakkiah Lui and actress and screenwriter Miranda Tapsell.

Over nine episodes the collaborators and best friends delve into the history of the debutante ball, both in Australia and overseas, and discuss how a symbol of white colonial supremacy and patriarchy has become a force of empowerment for Aboriginal women.

“Miranda and I met at a panel at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) that I was speaking on after I had just written my first play in 2013,” Nakkiah told The Spill podcast. “Miranda had just starred in The Sapphires and I was a massive fan.

“We were having drinks in the foyer afterward and we just gravitated towards each other. Maybe because we were both at the stage of deciding whether or not we should have a third drink, we realised we were both having the same internal monologue. Then we became best friends.

“We were the only two Aboriginal women in the foyer,” Miranda added. “I just sidled up to Nakkiah because I needed to create a safe space for myself.”

As their friendship grew, the two women often found themselves deep in conversations about race, sex, gender and politics. Or, as Nakkiah puts it, “all the things you’re not meant to talk about”.

Realising the power in amplifying these conversations led to their first foray in the podcast world, with the popular podcast Pretty For An Aboriginal. 

Listen to Nakkiah Lui and Miranda Tapsell talk about Debutante: Race, Resistance & Girl Power on The Spill. Post continues below.

When it came time to create a new podcast, Miranda and Nakkiah found themselves continually gravitating back to the idea of debutante balls in Australia, thanks in part to their own family histories.

“The idea of the debutante ball is something that just kept coming up again and again between us,” Nakkiah told The Spill. “Miranda’s mum was a debutante and my mum runs an Aboriginal debutante ball in Mount Druitt in Sydney that I help her with.”

“It’s a great in for a conversation about race and gender,” Miranda continued. “The debutante ball was an institution that didn’t include women who were Black or women who were poor and it was essentially a meat market. They were showing off women like cows.

“We unpack that idea and talk about the historical context, explaining how many Aboriginal communities have managed to flip it and make it a really empowering celebration for Black people.”

During the recording and production process for Debutante, the duo travelled to a number of international locations for interviews and experiences including London, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Atlanta and while they were blown away by the generosity of their interview subjects, not everything went to plan.

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The pair had a little trouble navigating the roads in Los Angeles, saying they almost caused a pile-up while trying to get In-N-Out burger and then ended up sipping champagne on the balcony at Louis Vuitton because a tour guide kept telling everyone they were “very famous in Australia”.

However, it was not until they arrived in London for a swanky event that the most hysterical moments of their trip took place.

“I did an etiquette class in London,” Nakkiah said. “Well, I was made to do an etiquette class because I was going to this very prestigious event, which is the original debutante ball.

“At the class, I was given some champagne, but I suffer from really bad gas when I drink champagne so for about 20 minutes at this very very very fancy hotel in Mayfair, during tea time, I got the burps.

“It was a very intimate setting with only around seven people in attendance and the burps were so loud and I just could not stop.

“The etiquette teacher just gave me a napkin, and then turned away and stared into the distance,” she laughed.

Nakkiah Lui and Miranda Tapsell explore the cultural defiance and importance of Indigenous debutante balls. Image: Supplied.

During the podcast, Miranda and Nakkiah delve into how debutante balls, which traditionally focused on beauty and poise for white women, now hold a new meaning for Aboriginal women and how the idea of beauty standards plays into this.

"I grapple with the ideals of beauty constantly, particularly while doing this podcast," Miranda said. "I also work in an industry where your value is built on how you look. Sometimes I think we really just need to be dismantling all that, why is beauty such a currency? It really shouldn’t be.

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"But at the same time, I can see the confidence it can bring. When I was interviewing the young debutantes in Mount Druitt, and interviewing my mum about her own debutante ball, they talked about how (participating in the ball) made them feel equal.

"That’s no small thing, particularly for young Black girls who don’t get to see themselves on magazine covers and they don’t look to glamorous Hollywood stars who look like them.

"It was important for us to talk about how important freedom of choice is. We get to see how the tradition of the debutante ball has been completely re-written and reclaimed.

When the launch date for Debutante was first set earlier this year, neither Nakkiah or Miranda imagined it would be released during a time encompassing global protests and conversations around Black Lives Matter.

However, they both hope people will listen and learn from their conversations and then add their own voices to a movement steeped in history and the need for change.

"What was really important to me is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives be spoken about with nuance and with more depth than they have previously," Miranda said. "It does feel empowering that Nakkiah and I get to share a window into a different perspective of history because there is not just one version.

"We've been able to speak authentically about how we’ve gone through the world. Hopefully, the people who listen to this podcast look at the issues that have been brought to the forefront with a little bit more empathy and kindness. I hope they share our anger and pain and will be on the front lines with us."

Nakkiah added: "We need to remember that Black Lives Matter and the conversation around deaths in custody, these movements have been around for many decades and these protests are steeped in resistance.

"In Australia it's about making sure that people don’t die because of an unpaid fine, making sure people don’t die at the hands of people who are meant to protect them. Police brutality is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s a lot more to do there in terms of equality.

"Systematic racism is not just about life and death, that’s the bare minimum we can do. To make sure people are not killed because of their skin colour or race.

"If we lived in a world where Aboriginal women were celebrated, instead of just tolerated, maybe we would not have these deaths in custody."

Debutante: Race, Resistance & Girl Power is an Audible Original podcast and is available at audible.com.au/debutante

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