When ABC first announced Black B*tch, a provocative working title, last November at its 2019 Programming highlights it was the standout project.
ABC unveiled a drama about an Indigenous woman entering federal politics with Deborah Mailman and Rachel Griffiths, from Redfern Now, Mabo & Deep Water producers Blackfella Films. In March casting and production were confirmed.
But it’s amazing how even a simple title change can shift perceptions.
Yesterday ABC surprised by revealing the working title was no more. The newly-titled Total Control would screen in October.
That’s despite Black B*tch having its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last week.
The series was co-created by Rachel Griffiths who has previously stated the idea – and the provocative title – first came to her when she was 27, inspired by two real-life events: an Aboriginal woman who was involved in a native land title claim who had ‘black b*tch’ graffitied on her house and Nova Peris, who received torrents of racial abuse after standing for election.
“I had the title and it was about an Indigenous senator who is helicoptered into the senate and brings down a government. That was my pitch, and it’s only gotten more relative. Our Conservative party here has barely increased its female reach, particularly in pre-selection [of candidates], and when women have been helicoptered in – able women with life experience over the apparatchik machines – they’re not always welcome at the table. So that’s all where it came from,” Griffiths has told Drama Quarterly.
In recent weeks the project’s title has drawn some criticism on social media despite its well-intentioned desire to disempower the words. ABC sources indicated they decided to rename the show several weeks ago, before the release of the TIFF trailer and any criticism on social media.
An ABC spokesperson said, “Black B*tch was a working title and while we support its deliberate calling out of the racial slur by a proud Indigenous woman, it can also be taken, and used, in a negative way. We want to ensure this excellent show is viewed and talked about by as broad an audience as possible for the great story it tells. To ensure the focus is on the story, not the name, the ABC will broadcast the series with the title Total Control, which aptly describes the central character’s fight for power over her life and politics.”
The name change comes despite iview titles F***ing Adelaide and strong language in other ABC Dramas and Comedies. In Black Comedy, Deborah Mailman even refers to “b*tch” in the context of an Indigenous comedy.
Being white and male I don’t pretend to know the dangers of turning the spotlight on two volatile words might have on its community. But it was clearly intended to negate them and I can’t help but feel artists should have been allowed to stick to their guns and their vision.
Art is supposed to be provocative, to challenge us. Make us think.
Total Control now sounds like a sci-fi rather than a powerful comment on our politics and social injustice (and the font and poster image sure aren’t helping).
Fingers crossed it is still a ripping story that finds an audience.
Total Recall premieres Sunday 13th October at 8.30pm on ABC.