If an indigenous person from the Pacific were asked to name the movie that best represents the life of an indigenous person today, what would they chose?
Whalerider. An obvious choice, everyone seems to think its about indigneous survival. But when you really look at it, what are the problems that must be overcome? For them, survival is overcoming the indigenous obstacles that hold the Maoris back. The problem with this is that its too simplistic in a bad way. Its so simplistic, that it actually fits perfectly with recent statements by Bush Insular Deputy David Cohen, that the real problems Pacific Islanders face today are internal to their cultures, finding ways to get rid of those problems that are holding us back.
How about Once Were Warriors. For along time, the only movie for the Pacific outside of Elvis flicks,, Robinson Crusoe films and Tora! Tora! Tora! An inspiring film, however harsh. The answer to the problems that plague indigneous peoples today is to seek that spiritual center, only their cultures can offer. There are limits to this though, for the same reason as Whalerider. These representations of colonization, while striking ultimately give us a very narrow view of what colonization is and how it must be dealt with.
These representations play into the idea proposed by the United States envoys to the United Nations that "colonization" is effectively over. Colonization in the sense of something that must be resisted is gone from this world, what we have left are remenants that exist within each of us that must be dealt with in our own quiet isolated ways. What is left for us now is to sift through the ruins of our cultures and find what we can and use it to deal with our social and economic problems. What this can do is create some very inspiring narratives as both of these films show, but at the same time affirm dominant colonizing narratives about colonialism's end and what we must do on our islands and in our cultures. What these film's instruct us is that the answers and problems are both found within us and our cultures, never exploring not just historically how there are other less local factors involved (colonial), but how in contemporary life the agents of colonialism are still all around us!
With film such as Whalerider and Once Were Warriors we get a sense of agency that has long been denied to us. There is agency at the digetic level, how do the characters solve and resolve their social ills? Then just the existence of the films as well is a form of agency, the fact that there are films about islanders with actual islanders, recognized on a global level.
But at what costs? Most obviously the cost comes in what types of narratives get distributed, consumed and believed. One might say that these films meet "indigenous expectations," however such is not really the case. This brings me to the film I would chose to describe the plight of indigenous life today, What Lies Beneath.
Several weeks ago I posted on Terminator vs. Whalerider. I'm at last returning to that conversation. It is precisely these indigenous expectations, which allow us to enjoy a film like Whalerider so much and so easily that must be tampered with. These expecations which we don't take to heart, but instead feel as if they have always already been in our hearts. But these expectations are rarely intrinsic, instead they have been lain beneath our speech, our vision and our thoughts by centuries of colonization, militarism, neo-colonialism and orientalism.
It is these expectations that trap us and make it seem that our problems are not anyone elses but our own. In seeking to heal the wounds of colonization we need only find some small inspiration in what we once were and it'll keep us going. Thus once again, although these films might be hopeful, they are re-inventing the colonial wheel, by helping re-cast the docile, hospitable and friendly natives.
If Pai can traverse the rift with her grandfather things will be great! If only the boy from Once Were Warriors could get in touch with his culture! While these things are important, there are a whole slew of problems that our expectations of culture don't allow us to address aesthetically or politically. That is why I'm a fan of using completely inappropriate films to make my points. That is the only way in which these colonizing commonsensical notions can be shattered, is if we use something like Terminator or What Lies Beneath to reflect indigenous struggles.