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Historical Accuracy of The Depiction of The 1990s in Looking for Alibrandi

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Table of contents

  1. Schooling in the 1990s
  2. Males in the 1990s
  3. Racism and immigration during the 1990s
  4. Looking for Alibrandi
  5. Conclusion

Schooling in the 1990s

During the 1990s, more emphasis was placed on schooling for young people, particularly those completing secondary schooling. This is because the labour market required students to have higher educational credentials. Moreover, parents who had completed or prolonged schooling experiences were another motivating factor for students to complete secondary schooling, as these better-educated parents became active stake-holders in education (Campbell & Proctor, 2014).

Looking specifically at different schools, there was a decline in public schooling systems but a gradual rise in non-government schools. In 1991, according to Campbell and Proctor (2014), government schools went down by 1.6% whereas non-government schools increased by 0.6%. Five years later, government schools continued to drastically decline with a decrease of 5.1% and non-government continued to rise, increasing by 1.3%. Moreover, this resulted from the Howard Liberal government who, in the mid 1990s, began to increasingly divert resources towards the private sector and away from the public sector (Sherington & Campbell, 2009). These differences consequently resulted in conflict between government and non-government schools for enrolment (Campbell & Proctor, 2014). This conflict developed to the point where schooling became increasingly divided based on social class and region. Catholic and Protestant schools became prominent in the school market for those living in the inner West, Eastern suburbs, and on the North Shore, with very few students attending government schools and the reason for this was because church-run schools had the perception of being more orderly than public schools.

Moreover, Catholic schools had an exclusivity factor and in order to gain entry, it was largely based upon one’s ability to pay the fees, a student’s probable behaviour or learning problems as well as having to sit entrance tests to demonstrate academic potential (Campbell & Proctor, 2014). Furthermore, these schools differentiated themselves by promoting specialisations in curriculum, such as religion classes, as well as providing social exclusivities (Campbell & Proctor, 2014). In general, Catholic schools were developed early on and were always single-sex schools which were run by brothers or nuns. Moreover, girls’ schools started to adopt more Arnoldian characteristics such as having prefects, school songs, and having scholarships. This remained the same during the 1990s. On top of this, during the 1990s, policies began to re-orient towards females being a part of curriculum, higher education and previously male-dominated careers.

Males in the 1990s

During the 1990s, boys were becoming a problem. There was the development of new programs that were framed as support for young males as they became the disadvantaged sex, a label previously belonging to females. Alongside this, youth suicide especially among young males became more prevalent. Suicide rates of males aged 15-24 increased significantly during the 1990s, particularly from 1995-1997, being three times more than the rate in the 1960s. More specifically, the Australian Bureau of Statistics compared suicide rates within the age range of 15-24, and found that females had a mean of 5.1 whereas males had a mean of 25.7, per a 100,000 population (Cantor et al., 1999). These rates being particularly high for young males were potentially a result of experiencing ‘freedom as a tyranny’, especially since they felt their individual choice being significantly affected by traditional social factors such as privilege.

Racism and immigration during the 1990s

The Racial Discrimination Act was enacted during the 1970s, seeing the abolition of the White Australia policy. As a result of this act, the 1990s saw the emergence of multicultural policies in the post-white Australia era, which were responsible for Australian schools becoming more diverse. However, alongside this, these policies and laws did not effectively prevent discrimination as the 1990s also saw a rise in xenophobia and anti-immigration racism.

In particular, up to the mid-1990s, there was an influx and escalated intake of non-European, specifically Asian and Muslim, immigrants which resulted in opposition (Tavan, 2004). This continued into late-1990s as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party argued that immigration served as a prelude to social conflict and division and will ultimately create an ethnically divided Australia. Furthermore, from surveying Sydney’s public, 60% of people expressed opinions that were in opposition of immigrant groups maintaining their own cultures and traditions.

Although, Asian and Muslim immigrants appear to be the major groups, there were less mentioned groups such as the southern and eastern Europeans who were also identified as significant out-groups in New South Wales (Forrest & Dunn, 2006). Eastern Europeans, specifically Italians, mass migrated to Australia during the 1950s. Despite the number of years after they migrated, it was only until the 1990s where there was a significant language shift and loss among Italo-Australians. More specifically, the number of Italian speakers declined by 10.3% and it was found that the later generations encapsulated Italian behaviours around family and community but Australian tendencies externally (Rubino, 2002). This can be representative of the Italo-Australians refraining from engaging in their own culture due to seeing a rise in racism during this decade. However, towards mid and late 1990s, there was evidence of cultural and linguistic revival of the Italian language and culture among the younger generation of Italo-Australian.

Looking for Alibrandi

‘Looking for Alibrandi’ is an Australian-made filmed released in 2000. More specifically, the entire movie was filmed in well-known locations of Sydney. These included Bondi Beach, Glebe, Sydney Opera House, and the quadrangle of the University of Sydney. As for the school scenes, the schools that were mainly used were the Scots College and Kincoppal School.

The film itself received five awards at the 2000 AFI awards, with the most significant one being ‘Best Film’. In particular, the director, Kate Woods, made her directorial debut with ‘Looking for Alibrandi’. She was praised for representing the multiculturalism within the film respectfully and with true depth. This reaction and the success of the film is reflected as the film grossed $8.3 million at the box office in Australia.

The main character playing Josie Alibrandi is Pia Miranda. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts and majored in performance arts from Victorian University of Technology before commencing her role as an actress. Miranda shared a commonality with her character as she was also from an Italian-Australian heritage. This screenplay is by Melina Marchetta, who is also the author of the novel with the same name. Marchetta attended high school at Rosebank College, which is currently an independent Roman-Catholic comprehensive co-educational secondary school, however prior to 1986, when Marchetta was a student, it was an all-girls school.

Schooling is a recurring in ‘Looking for Alibrandi’. The school Josie Alibrandi attends is an all-girls Catholic school called St Martha’s. As mentioned, Catholic schools were the prominent school on the market in the 1990s, accounting for the main character attending this particular school. Furthermore, the idea that Catholic schools were largely based on a student’s ability to pay the fees was made clear in the film as Josie detailed how one of her friend’s father had to work two jobs in order secure a place for his daughter at the school.

Looking at St Martha’s, the film’s representation of Catholic schooling is accurate to the description of the schooling environment mentioned in Part 1. This is because in the film, the teachers were nuns who were referred to as ‘sisters’, the only classroom scene shown was a religion class reiterating that religion in a part of the specialised curriculum, and there were scenes where the girls would be gathered in the church to sing a school hymn. This singing scene also serves as an example of all-girls schools developing Arnoldian characteristics. Moreover, films shot outdoors incorporate a lot of incidental information about different infrastructures and how things actually existed back then, and when originality is ensured, it provides valuable information about the social history. This is evident in the film as the school scenes are shot at Kincoppal School, an actual Roman-Catholic all-girls secondary school founded in 1882. By using an authentic school, originality is maintained so it provides accurate insight into how Catholic schools were like during the 1990s.

Moreover, there was a scene where multiple schools went to the Sydney Opera House to listen to speeches from different students. In this scene, Josie made a speech and the reception from her school was tame and well-mannered. Following her was Jacob Coote, a boy from a public school who was characterised with a vulgar and loud personality. During his speech, there were obnoxious students laughing and cheering throughout. For added effect, the camera panned around the audience and there was a clear distinction in the behaviour and dress of students, making it easy to determine which student went to a private or public school. By including this particular scene, it nicely reflected the common perception of the 1990s that church-run schools were more orderly than public schools.

Other than schooling, the Alibrandi’s Italian heritage was a significant aspect of the film. Racism re-emerged in the 1990s and particularly, Italo-Australians found the need to not engage with their culture. This is reflected as Josie in the opening scene expresses her disinterest and annoyance towards her loud Italian family, before leaving the gathering to hand out with her Australian friends. Moreover, students in school openly call her Italian family ‘wogs’, with Carly Bishop even mentioning how her father publicised that he was ‘tackling all the wogs’. These examples are explicit and represent the racism occurring during that decade. These social attitudes are reflected in a specific and vivid manner, however, contain some inaccuracies since films tend to avoid being controversial especially with topics like racism as it can offend a wide audience. Despite the racism, the film also shows the revival of Italian culture and language. Towards the end of the movie, Josie’s attitude changes and she appears to be involved and proud of her Italian heritage.

Another significant part of the film was the suicide of John Barton. Including this is critical as suicide among the youth was prevalent during the 1990s. Although there was no explicit explanation for his suicide, there were times throughout the film where Josie and him discussed their future and he appeared to feel pressure from his father. His father was an established politician and John always felt inclined to follow his footsteps, even though he considered other career paths. Being pressured to mirror his father, this could be indictive of how he felt that his individuality was being affected, a reason for youth suicide mentioned above.

On the other hand, there were aspects of the film that were not portrayed as accurately. Apart from money being an important element for St Martha’s, Josie expresses that the school also cares a lot about what the fathers do for a living. From above, we know that during the 1990s, parents were influential towards the education of their children, with the better-educated ones became stakeholders. This is not explicitly reflected in the film. Fathers were mentioned throughout, however, they did not take the role of a stakeholder or were the reason why students were motivated to attend school. Carly, for example always boasted about her father and it was obvious that her father spoiled and treated her like a princess. So rather than Carly’s father being influential towards her education, he was rather portrayed as the reason for her popularity. This element takes away from portraying the history because this film has added some teenage themes such as popularity and dating to make the past relevant and to engage the intended audience. In addition, the concept of schooling becoming more divided based on social class and region was instead represented through the relationship of Josie and Jacob. Josie expressed worries that they came from different regions and social class and hence, thinking their relationship will not work. Once again, rather than looking at this how region and social class caused further segregation in terms of schooling in the 1990s, representing it through relationships instead is more appealing to the younger generation.


Overall, Barber (2015) reiterates that films will not and will never be a mirror of society, rather it only offers a representation of reality at a given time. Based on this, ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ does suffice in providing an accurate depiction of the 1990s, given that multiple aspects of the film nicely convey schooling, racism and youth suicide present at the time. Generally, when evaluating a film as a historical source, it is important to consider what the film is trying to do and how it has been done. The reason this film has been created is to provide perspective into the life of a teenage girl trying to navigate schooling, her youth and culture during the 1990s. These concepts and issues along with it are portrayed as is and there is no explicit intention of the film trying to challenge them. This adds to the accuracy in properly representing history because staginess and obtrusiveness can obscure the historical period (Barber, 2015). Although there are some inaccuracies, it is inevitable as films still have the purpose of entertainment and engaging their target audience. But, considering their representation of major historical moments of the 1990s, it can be concluded that this film is a suitable historical source.

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