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On the east coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people believe their presence there dates back a thousand years or more to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale. From then on, Whangara chiefs, always the first-born, always male, have been considered Paikea's direct descendants. Pai, an 11-year-old girl in a patriarchal New Zealand tribe, believes she is destined to be the new chief. But her grandfather Koro is bound by tradition to pick a male leader. Pai loves Koro more than anyone in the world, but she must fight him and a thousand years of tradition to fulfill her destiny. Written by
The East Coast shirt worn by Uncle Rawiri refers to his home town, Whangara, being at the eastern tip of New Zealand's North Island. See more »
When the girl has been crying and the grandfather is comforting her, he wipes the tears from her face. In some shots, you can see where he wiped the tear, in other shots, you see a tear that has tricked down to her chin, and in some shots, she has a tear that hasn't traveled so far. See more »
In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness. It was waiting. Waiting to be filled up. Waiting for someone to love it. Waiting for a leader.
[child birth scene]
And he came on the back of a whale. A man to lead a new people. Our ancestor, Paikea. But now we were waiting for the firstborn of the new generation, for the descendant of the whale rider. For the boy who would be chief.
There was no gladness when I was born. My twin brother died, and took our mother with him.
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A beautifully filmed and convincingly acted treat for the entire family. Adults need NOT beware since the film respects its audience and contains levels of depth suitable for all ages. Although ultimately an upbeat movie, there are some grim plot elements that may not be appropriate for very young or overly sensitive children. However, there's no actual violence or anything truly frightening or morbid.
This is the story of a 12 year old Maori girl who knows that she is born to the destiny her grandfather believes died with her stillborn twin brother. I won't spoil the ending (which is hinted at early on) with specifics, but suffice it to say that the story's ultimate lesson is that change is sometimes as necessary a component of living traditions as repetitive ceremony. And that the Maori must ride that "whale" as bravely as their mythological ancestor rode the whale from Havaiki (a satellite island of Tahiti, NOT Hawaii) to New Zealand. Not to destroy or denigrate their culture, but to ensure its vitality and continuity in the cultural matrix of the modern world.
A great lesson in true cultural diversity without preachy slogans or "politically correct" censorship. It should be shown in all the world's classrooms. Keisha Castle-Hughes is unforgettable as the heroine, and richly deserves the Oscar for which she has been nominated.
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