13 of #52FilmsByWomen: Whale Rider


Whale Rider (2002, written and directed by Niki Caro)

[13 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

When it comes to children, most cultures favour boys over girls and that sustains their patriarchal system. I see this in my own Chinese community where people often express relief over having given birth to a boy, so that there is someone to `carry on the family name’.

The logical consequence of such a societal structure is clear. Some girls, just by being born, are disappointments to their family. This is what happens Paikea in Whale Rider. Being a descendant in a long line of Maori tribal chiefs, her grandfather desperately wants a male grandchild to carry the title.

This is a movie that shows that sexism isn’t necessarily a trait carried only by cartoonishly evil MRA trolls on the internet. Often it’s a sort of ingrained mindset that most of us had to train ourselves out of. Pikea’s grandfather, Koro, is generally a nice and well-meaning guy. Most times he is shown doting on his granddaughter, cycling every day into town to pick her up from school.

However due to his strict adherence to his culture and tradition, he does not allow Pikea to participate in learning the arts and practices of their tribe. The reason being that it’s only for the boys. And this is even despite the fact that she shows great interest in it and often performs the tasks better than the other boys.

This film also shows us that ingrained double standards isn’t always necessarily tied only to traditions. Within the context of their cultural rules, even when all the signs and omens point towards Pikea being the next true descendant of the Whale Rider, Koro still refuses to accept it. This selective clinging to traditionĀ reminiscent to what we sometimes see in our lives as well.

Whale Rider is a great educational introduction to the Maori culture in New Zealand. Keisha Castle-Hughes was fantastic as a young girl trying desperately to impress her grandfather.


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