Coming of Age Across Cultures in Film: Whale Rider and Rabbit-Proof Fence.
Whale Rider: Themes and Cultural Issues
The Whale Rider is a film adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s 1986 novel, set in the year 2002. The story centers around the Maori culture, an indigenous group of people in New Zealand, and the Whangara community where this culture thrives in modern-day New Zealand. According to Whangara lore, a 1000-year-old creation myth dictates that every chief’s first-born son must be his direct successor.
Unfortunately, in this story, the chief’s eldest son Porourangi faced a tragedy when his wife and son died during childbirth. The only surviving twin was a girl named Pai. However, due to traditional beliefs, Pai cannot be considered eligible to succeed the title of whale rider. Koro, the grandfather and chief of the community, does not acknowledge Pai as a rightful inheritor. He is blinded by prejudice and convinced that the girl has brought serious misfortunes to their tribe.
Their long line of tribal tradition requires men to rule their community in order to preserve its culture. For them, a girl is considered nothing but a worthless person who is not fit for a high position. Porourangi was disappointed with this and decided to go abroad, leaving Pai with her grandparents.
Pai’s father made things even worse when he had a child with his German girlfriend. This caused her father to lose his desire to become the tribe’s new chief, leading to an argument with Koro, Pai’s grandfather. Despite this, he convinced his daughter to come back home with him.
Pai, on the other hand, went with her father, but she returned quickly because she believed her grandfather needed her. Despite the girl’s eagerness to win the title or position, her grandfather still wanted to groom other leaders by having a training school for all 12-year-old boys in the community. Little did they know that deep within the ocean, a massive herd of whales was responding and drawn towards Pai. There, Pai finally revealed her giftedness, spiritual power and special role to their tribe.
Rabbit-Proof Fence: Themes and Cultural Issues
Another film released in 2002 is Rabbit-Proof Fence, based on the novel Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara. The author narrates the story of her own mother, Molly, along with two other young mixed aboriginal girls named Daisy and Gracie. These three half-caste” children show how they managed to escape from orphanages.
In Western Australia, around 1931, the small depot of Jigalong was located on the edge of the Gibson Desert. A Rabbit-Proof Fence ran through Jigalong and out into the desert, separating Australia from north to south.
The fence was built to keep the rabbits on one side and the pasture on the other. The remote county of Jigalong is home to three young Aboriginal girls. During that time in Australia, there was an official government policy, determined by the Chief Protector of the Aboriginal population, Mr. Neville. This policy stated that all half-caste Aboriginal children must be taken from their families and raised in orphanages to be civilized and eventually married off to a white person or groomed as domestic servants. To the government, this policy of separating children from their families was legal and not cruel or detrimental.
The three children were taken from their mothers and brought to an orphanage in Moore River, which is over 1200 miles away from home. Unlike the other children, the girls did not want to stay there. When the right opportunity presented itself, they escaped and followed the rabbit-proof fence back to Jigalong.
An Aboriginal tracker named Moodoo pursued them for three months on a grueling journey. The brave girls worked their way out of the harsh environment to return to their rightful place – home with their mother. This story highlights the unequal treatment of minority groups and children’s rights.
Culture and film analysis are closely intertwined. Films often reflect the cultural values, beliefs, and norms of the society in which they were created. Through analyzing films, we can gain a deeper understanding of the culture that produced them.
Watching these types of films can broaden our understanding of the cultural challenges faced by minority groups in a particular country. For instance, The Whale Rider sheds light on gender issues within the Maori community in New Zealand, while The Rabbit-Proof Fence highlights the struggles of aboriginal children in Australia. Both films effectively magnify social issues related to discrimination.
Both of these films feature their countries’ minority or ethnic groups. Viewers can see the situations these groups face and how their cultures, statuses, and races have gradually diminished in modern society. In earlier history, these people were able to live normally and freely in their territories. However, when new settlers arrived, they encountered threats to their rights.
In the film Whale Rider, the culture of the Maori people needs to be preserved from modernization. This is why they need someone to lead them and save them from this threat. In Rabbit-Proof Fence, when white men arrived in Australia, black people or aborigines faced the threat of extinction and loss of freedom.
In another angle, the two movies differ from each other in terms of the dilemmas and obstacles faced by their main characters. In Whale Rider, the most important issue is gender discrimination. Their culture believes in male dominance and that women have no right to practice leadership. On the other hand, Rabbit-Proof Fence deals with racial discrimination and the supremacy of whites over blacks as its biggest issue. Both movies reflect common social issues.
These two films are both straightforward and depict the coming of age for this kind of cultural awareness. The Whale Rider received various awards for its production, as it won recognition in film festivals due to its dramatic themes and compelling cast. Similarly, The Rabbit-Proof Fence also exhibited a great deal of craft when the film was put together for the big screen. The story mainly explores the human soul, struggles, and emotions. Overall, both films were effective in immersing the audience into the world of the story and culture of the characters.
Whale Rider: Review by Sandra Hall” (2003) – Sydney Morning Herald.
Accessed on December 8, 2008, from http://www.whaleriderthemovie.com/
Rabbit Proof Fence: A Film Review by James Berardinelli” (2002) from Reelviews.Net
Retrieved on December 8th, 2008 from http://www.reelviews.net/.