The family film ‘Whale Rider’ is a film that deals with a number of issues from start to finish. Centered around 11-year-old Paikea Apirana and her small Maori village on the coast of New Zealand, the characters from this film face issues within their culture, which is troubled with the transition from their original practices to the ways of the modern world. Within this transition, gender roles begin to be questioned and relationships in this small Maori community slowly start to crack. These problems are displayed through a series of audio, technical and symbolic codes used by the director in order to bring ‘Whale Rider’ to life.
In Paikea’s culture, and in many other cultures for that matter, different sexes are stereotyped to perform different roles. These stereotypes are strongly abided by the Maori people, with the women requiring to cook, clean, keep a clean house and to stay out of ‘Tapu’, the sacred things of the tribe. On the other hand, males are to hunt, fish and to provide and protect for the family. Examples of this can be seen throughout the film, one being when Koro, Pai’s grandfather, tells Nanny Flowers to hurry up with the food preparation for the local boys. Paikea however, confronts these stereotypes and challenges the gender expectations of her tribe. She attempts to learn the male customs of her culture and spies on the lessons her grandpa gives the local boys, and goes as far as mastering the ‘Taiaha’ a traditional fighting tool for males. On another occasion, she sits in the front row at a ceremony, normally where only the males are allowed to sit. When her grandpa orders her to move, she refuses and leaves the ceremony. As this ancient tribe begins to mix with the modern world, people begin to question whether the gender roles they have kept with for so long is the only way their tribe will survive.