I had skimmed over the hype – “A medicine woman – a giver of life – is asked to hide a secret which may protect one life but which will destroy another.” Several times and then after starting several other films and begging off fairly quickly I clicked on “White Lies.” The opening scenes of white men freely killing natives certainly set the tone. The combination of hate, insolence, and the condescending attitudes of whites fell like a heavy rain with every drop washing away their humanity. I felt like slapping each white person to wake them up to reality.
New Zealand consists of two large islands and over 700 small islands. The Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people came to New Zealand over a thousand years ago. The Dutch discovered New Zealand in 1642. The British arrived in 1769. The French followed closely behind. Today only one in seven New Zealanders identify as Maori. Natural healing for Maori was made illegal when the New Zealand government passed the Tohunga Suppression Act.
The story takes place around 1920. I enjoyed the scene in a Maori church or gathering hall with a priest providing helpful words of praise and assurance of a greater power beyond everyday life. We meet, Paraiti, the medicine woman (played by Whirimako Black) who knows the power of belief and herbs. When she tries to visit and help a young native girl give birth, she is spurned by the local hospital and treated like garbage or less. Next we see Paraiti approached by Maraea (played by Rachel House), the maid of a well-to-do white landowner to assist her mistress, Rebecca (played by Antonia Prebble). Paraiti declines the call to perform an abortion. The husband is away in England and knows nothing of the pregnancy. Most of the film involves those three women, their interactions, and their secrets.
The film is well written, the acting is superb, and the story is riveting. I wanted to see each of those three women succeed and knew that it would not be possible. In addition to the acting, the beauty of New Zealand is evident on most of the exterior scenes.
The film is based on a novel “Medicine Woman” by Witi Ihimaera. The director was Dana Rotberg, who also wrote the script.
I found the 2013 film on Prime. For more information on the film, please, visit – imdb.com/title/tt2386257
Survival and identity
bettydoes2 August 2013
I loved it. The dialog was clunky but the performances were mighty and made up for it. I thought the 3 leads were fantastic. I wanted to know more about them all. I’ve been quite taken aback at the drastically opposing opinions. It’s split my friends and family although I have to say the majority have absolutely loved but a few have disliked intensely. We’ve had a few arguments mostly because they felt picked on as white New Zealanders. I didn’t, it was just too interesting. Such polarizing views says a lot about the director. I felt she presented a very strong and unforgiving view of her interpretation of our history. Design and cinematography were outstanding. Bravo.
dennis-j-hogan16 November 2013
This was a superb film highlighting the clash of cultures and the ramifications resulting therefrom. In this case, it is a clash between traditional Maori and English colonial cultures. What is the value of culture and what is the price of conformity?
It is a well-developed movie. The acting was very good. The characterization was rigid and predictable based upon a viewer’s initial observation of the characters and their respective roles, which actually enhanced the maintenance of the secret until late in the movie. Clues are provided that almost reach the level of red-herrings, but they are real clues with multiple interpretations that become clear as the movie progresses. All is not as it originally seems.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
nan peele says
Appreciate your review. I watched this on Prime a month ago or so and was intrigued with story and the similarities with what whites have done to every indigenous culture we’ve found occupying THEIR CHOSEN HOME! Shame, Shame!!