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Coming Of Age across Cultures in Film: Whale Rider and Rabbit-Proof Fence

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                Coming Of Age across Cultures in Film: Whale Rider and Rabbit-Proof Fence

    Whale Rider: Theme and Cultural Issues

                A film in the year 2002 the Whale Rider is an adaptation of the novel by Witi Ihimaera in 1986. The story focuses on the Maori culture an indigenous group of people in New Zealand. It is also about the modern-day New Zealand and the Whangara community where this Maori culture thrives. The Whangara lore, a 1000-year-old creation myth required that the first born son of every chief must be his direct successor.

                Unfortunately in this story the chief’s eldest son, Porourangi had a tragedy when his wife and son died while his wife gave birth to their twins. Unfortunately, the one that survived is the girl named Pai. The girl cannot be considered as eligible to succeed the title of a whale rider. Koro the grandfather and the chief of the community don’t acknowledge Pai as a rightful inheritor. He was blinded by prejudice and he was convinced that the girl had 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 nothing but a worthless person not fit for a high position. Disappointed, Porourangi went abroad and left Pai to her grandparents.

                Pai’s father made things even worse when he had a child to his German girlfriend. Her father lost his desire to become their tribe’s new chief. He had this argument with his father Koro. He convinced his daughter to come with him when he returned back home.

                Pai on the other hand went with her father but she returned quickly believing her grandfather needed her. Despite of the girls eagerness to win the title or position her grandfather still want to groom other leader by having a training school for all 12 year-old boys in the community. Little did they know that deep within the ocean the massive herd of whales is 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 in the year 2002 is the Rabbit-Proof Fence a film based on the novel Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence written by Doris Pilkington Garimara. The author narrated the story of her own mother, Molly together with the other two young mixed aboriginal girls named Daisy and Gracie. These three “half-caste” children showed how they manage to escaped from the orphanages.

                In the Western Australia around 1931 the small depot of Jigalong is found on the edge of the Gibson Desert. Running through Jigalong and out into the desert is a Rabbit-Proof Fence that separated Australia from north to south.

                The purpose why the fence was built was to keep the rabbits on one side and pasture on the other side. The remote county of Jigalong is the home of the three young aboriginal girls. During that time in Australia there is an official policy of the government as determined by the Chief Protector of the Aborigine populace, Mr. Neville that all half-caste aborigine children must be taken from their families and raised them in orphanages for them to be civilized and have them marry a white person or groom them to be a domestic servant someday. To the government this policy of separating the children from their family is legal and not cruel or detrimental for them after all.

                The three children were taken from their mothers to live in an orphanage in Moore River which is found more than 1200 miles from home. The girls are unlike the other children because they don’t want to stay in that place. When the right opportunity came they all escaped and followed the rabbit-proof fence for them to return back to Jigalong.

    An Aborigine tracker, named Moodoo pursued them. For three months of straining journey the brave girls worked their way out of the harsh environment to return back to their rightful place, their home together with their mother. The story showed the unequal treatment for the minority groups and to the rights of children.

    Culture and Film Analysis

                This kind of films can open our minds to the different cultural issues faced by minority groups in a certain country. The Whale Rider narrated the gender issues within the Maori culture found in New Zealand. The Rabbit-Proof Fence tackles the plight of aboriginal children in Australia. The social issues regarding discrimination are then magnified in both of these films.

                Both of this films featured their countries’ minority or ethnic groups. People can see their situation and how their culture, status and their race gradually reduced in the modern society. Earlier in history this people can live normally and freely in their territories but when new settlers came in they encountered threat to their rights. In the film Whale Rider their culture needs to be preserved from modernization that is why they need someone to lead them and save them from this threat. In Rabbit-Proof Fence when white men came in, the black people or the aborigines faced the threat of extinction and lost of freedom.

                In another angle the two movies differed from one another by the dilemma and obstacles face by their main characters. In Whale Rider the most important issue is the gender discrimination. Their culture believes in male dominance and that women have no rights to practice leadership. In Rabbit-Proof Fence the biggest issue is the racial discrimination and the supremacy of whites over the blacks. Both of them reflect common social issues.

                These two films are both straightforward and show the coming of age for this kind of cultural awareness. The Whale Rider received different awards for its production. It won recognition in film festivals because of its dramatic themes and compelling cast. The Rabbit-Proof Fence also showed a great deal of craft when the film was put together for the big screen. The story is mainly an exploration of the human soul, struggles and emotions.  Overall the films became effective in bringing the audience to the world of the story and culture of the characters.


    “Whale Rider: Review By Sandra Hall” (2003) Sydney Morning Herald.

    Retrieved December 8, 2008, from

    Rabbit Proof Fence: A Film Review by James Berardinelli” (2002) Reelviews.Net

    Retrieved December 8, 2008, from

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