Whale Rider

Whale Rider is a 2002 coproduction between New Zealand and Germany directed by Niki Caro and based on the novel of the same name by Witi Ihimaera. The film stars Keisha Castle-Hughes (the youngest nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actress) as Kahu Paikea Apirana, a 12-year-old Maori girl. Unsurprisingly, only males are allowed to ascend to chiefdom in a Maori tribe in New Zealand. This ancient custom is upset when the child selected to be the next chief dies and his twin sister, Paikea, survives. At age 12, to break with convention and win over her ultra-traditional grandfather, Pai enlists the help of her grandmother and the training of her uncle to claim her birthright to be the leader. The plot shifts dramatically when Pai’s grandfather, who leads a cultural school for the village boys hoping to find the next leader, notices numerous beached whales. The entire village attempts to coax and drag them back into the water, but all efforts prove unsuccessful. When her grandfather walks away from the scene, Pai climbs onto the back of the largest whale and coaxes it to re-enter the ocean. The whale leads the entire pod back into the sea, with Pai on his back. She submerges completely underwater, and for a few seconds we wonder if she has drowned, yet she victoriously comes back to sea level. Is this sounding familiar? It’s so similar to my dream the morning I confronted my father that I practically fell off the couch before bursting into tears. WOW! When Pai is found and brought to the hospital, her grandfather declares her the leader and asks her forgiveness. Okay, my father did not go that far, but in my heart I know I am in alignment with love and my life purpose. And in the end, the hero’s journey is just that, nothing more or less than claiming and living what is our birthright despite patriarchal traditions, resistance and adversity.

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