Whale Rider

Whale Rider

Infobox Film
name = Whale Rider

caption = Movie poster for "Whale Rider"
director = Niki Caro
producer = John Barnett
Frank Hübner
Tim Sanders
writer = Witi Ihimaera (novel)
Niki Caro (movie)
starring = Keisha Castle-Hughes
Rawiri Paratene
Vicky Haughton
Cliff Curtis
music = Lisa Gerrard
cinematography = Leon Narbey
editing = David Coulson
distributor = Newmarket Films (USA)
Buena Vista International (non-USA)
released = January 30, 2003 (New Zealand)
July 4, 2003 (USA)
runtime = 101 min.
country = NZ
language = English
budget = NZD 6,000,000 (est.)
gross = $41,442,113
preceded_by =
followed_by =
amg_id =
imdb_id = 0298228

"Whale Rider" is a 2002 film directed by Niki Caro, based on the 1987 novel "The Whale Rider" by New Zealand Māori author Witi Ihimaera. The world premiere was on September 9, 2002, at the Toronto International Film Festival.


The movie's plot follows the story of Paikea Apirana ("Pai") at the age of 12 who is the only living child in the line of the tribe's chiefly succession because of the death of her twin brother and mother during childbirth. By tradition, the leader should be the first-born son — a direct patrilineal descendant of Paikea, the Whale Rider — he who rode atop a whale from Hawaiki. However, Pai is female and technically cannot inherit the leadership.

Pai's grandfather Koro Apirana, or Old Paka as his wife Nanny Flowers calls him, the leader of the tribe, is initially angry at losing his grandson and being left with a "worthless" female. While he later forms an affectionate bond with his granddaughter, carrying her to school every day on his bicycle, he also resents her and blames her for many of the troubles facing the tribe. At one point Pai decides to leave with her father because her grandfather is mistreating her. She finds that she cannot bear to leave the sea and returns home. Pai's father refused to assume traditional leadership; instead he moved to Germany to pursue a career as an artist. Pai herself is interested in the leadership, learning traditional songs and dances, but is given little encouragement from her grandfather. Pai feels that she can become the leader although there's no precedent for a woman to do so, and is determined to succeed.

Koro decides to form a cultural school for the village boys, hoping to find a new leader. He teaches the boys to use a taiaha (fighting stick). This is traditionally reserved for males. So Nanny tells Pai that her second son, Pai's uncle, had won a taiaha tournament in his youth while he was still slim, so Pai secretly learns from him. She also secretly follows Koro's lessons. One of the students, Hemi, is also sympathetic, but Koro is enraged when he finds out, particularly when she wins her fight against Hemi. Koro's relationship with Pai erodes further when none of the boys succeed at the traditional task of recovering his whale tooth from the ocean — the mission that would prove one of them worthy of becoming leader.

Pai, in an attempt to bridge the rift that has formed, invites Koro to a concert of Māori chants that her school is putting on, as her guest of honor. Unknown to all, she had won an inter-school speech contest with a touching dedication to Koro and the traditions. However, Koro was late, and as he was walking to the school, he notices that numerous right whales are beached near Pai's home. The entire village attempts to coax and drag them back into the water, but all efforts prove unsuccessful; even a tractor doesn't help because the rope breaks. Koro sees it as a sign of failure and despairs further. He admonishes Pai against touching the largest whale because "she has done enough damage" with her presumption. Also, the largest whale traditionally belongs to the legendary Paikea. But when Koro walks away, she climbs onto the back of the largest whale and coaxes it to re-enter the ocean. The whale leads the entire pod back into the sea; Paikea nearly drowns in the process. When she goes out to sea, Nanny Flowers (Koro's wife and Pai's grandmother) shows Koro the whale tooth which Pai had previously recovered. When Pai is found and brought to the hospital, Koro declares her the leader and asks her forgiveness. The film ends with the village, including Pai's father and his pregnant German girlfriend, uncle and grandparents, celebrating her status as leader, as the finished canoe is hauled into the sea for its maiden voyage.

While the plot of the book is basically the same, it pays less attention specifically to Pai/Koro, and mainly focuses from a perspective of narration by Pai's uncle; in the film, Pai herself is the narrator. It clearly expresses the deep resentment felt by her grandfather, and Pai's longing to gain his respect as a rift opens between them.

Production and awards

Produced by South Pacific Pictures, on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island, the movie has received highly favourable praise from international critics and audiences and won a number of international film-festival awards, including:

* the Toronto International Film Festival's AGF Peoples Choice award in September 2002
* the World Cinema Audience award at the January 2003 Sundance Film Festival in the United States
* the Canal Plus Award at the January 2003 Rotterdam Film Festival.

Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance, becoming the youngest actress ever nominated for the award. She was 13 years old at the time.

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards:
*Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Charlize Theron for "Monster")
Chicago Film Critics Association:
*Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Charlize Theron for "Monster")
*Most Promising Filmmaker (Niki Caro, lost to Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini for "American Splendor")
*Most Promising Performer (Keisha Castle-Hughes, winner)
Image Awards:
*Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Queen Latifah for "Bringing Down the House")
*Best Film (lost to "The Fighting Temptations")
Independent Spirit Awards:
*Best Foreign Film (winner)
Satellite Awards
*Best Art Direction (lost to "")
*Best Director (Niki Caro, lost to Jim Sheridan for "In America")
*Best Film - Drama (lost to "In America")
*Best Screenplay - Adapted (Niki Caro, lost to Brian Helgeland for "Mystic River")
Screen Actors Guild:
*Best Supporting Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Renée Zellweger for "Cold Mountain")
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association:
*Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Naomi Watts for "21 Grams")


*Keisha Castle-Hughes as Paikea Apirana
*Rawiri Paratene as Koro Apirana
*Vicky Haughton as Nanny Flowers
*Cliff Curtis as Porourangi
*Grant Roa as Uncle Rawiri

ee also

*New Zealand literature
*New Zealand cinema
*List of women warriors in folklore, literature, and popular culture

External links

* [http://www.whaleriderthemovie.co.nz Official site]
*imdb title|id=0298228|title=Whale Rider
* [http://www.nzherald.co.nz/feature/story.cfm?c_id=634&objectid=3048958 Review at "The New Zealand Herald"]
* [http://www.moviepoopshoot.com/elsewhere/41.html Little Girl, Big Fish] - movie review

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