Screen Time: 80%
Age: 11 years old
Directed: Niki Caro
Country: New Zealand
Language: English, Maori
Genre: Adventure, Drama
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 have always been the first-born and male. Many generations later, the contemporary tale revolves around a young mother whose male newborn twin dies in childbirth. Her young husband flees New Zealand in grief, leaving grandparents Koro and Nanny Flowers to raise the sole survivor, a feisty little girl named Pai, who radiates with life and energy. It’s no wonder that her grandmother and the entire community love her, but alas, the grandfather she worships is too busy mourning the loss of the baby boy he expected would lead the tribe to better days.
Movie ReviewsBe on the lookout for this one. There's magic in it. Having already earned prizes at film festivals from Sundance to Toronto, Whale Rider is a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word: It wins you over without cheating. You look at the remarkable face of Keisha Castle-Hughes, only eleven when the film was shot, and you're hooked. She plays Pai, a Maori girl being raised by her grandparents, Koro (Rawiri Paratene) and Nanny Flowers (Vicky Haughton), in contemporary New Zealand. Her father ran off after his wife died giving birth to Pai and her twin brother, who also died. That will leave the tribe without a leader when Koro dies, since girls are considered unfit to lead.
Pai has other ideas. As Koro educates local boys in ancient mysticism and the martial arts, Pai trains in secret, evoking the anger of Koro, whose ancestor, legend has it, arrived in their village on the back of a whale.
Director Niki Caro, who adapted Wite Ihimaera's novel, has made a film of female empowerment that resonates deeply. Castle-Hughes is a star in in the making. She and her movie are worth cheering for.
PETER TRAVERS, Rolling Stone Magazine
(May 30, 2003)