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  • Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weniti, The Māori Merchant of Venice
  • Valerie Wayne
Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weniti, The Māori Merchant of Venice, 158 minutes, 35 mm film, color, 2002. In Māori with English subtitles. Director: Don C Selwyn; producers: Ruth Kaupua-Panapa, Don C Selwyn, He Taonga Films. <> Distributed by He Taonga Films, Auckland, New Zealand. Available in VHS and Region 3 DVD formats. VHS NZ$60; DVD NZ$30.

There is a moment in The Māori Merchant of Venice when the oppression experienced by the Jewish and the Māori people is shown to overlap in away that explains in part why this movie was made. It occurs in the scene where Shylock gets Antonio to pledge a pound of his own flesh as collateral against a loan from the Jewish moneylender. The setting for this scene is an art gallery, part of the Venetian marketplace as filmed in Auckland, and the paintings on the walls present images of "the sacking and burning of the Maori Parihaka community by the government in the 19 th century" (film website media kit, 41 ). All the paintings are by the contemporary artist Selwyn Muru, and as the scene ends the camera reveals the artist himself working on a large canvas across which is scrawled the word "holocaust." The nineteenth-century decimation of the Māori people is likened in this moment to the Nazi slaughter of the Jews, and for New Zealand audiences that very comparison occasioned a recent controversy when a politician, Tariana Turia, applied the word "holocaust" to whathappened to the Māori people (Rapata Wiri, pers comm, Oct and Nov 2002 ). This moment in the film reveals Shylock's motivations in his bond with the Christian merchant. Hewants justice, compensation, a restoration of mana for personal and collective suffering. In a 2001 editorial in the Shakespeare Quarterly ( 52, vi), Michael Neill says that this Māori translation of The Merchant of Venice differs from Shakespeare's play "not just in its linguistic medium but in the fact that it presupposes an audience that will sympathize with the Jew as representative of an oppressed minority." According to Rapata Wiri, by as early as 1868 the Māori people had already likened themselves to the Jews who were exiled in Egypt and trying to regain their promised land (pers comm, Nov 2002 ). While post-World War II productions of The Merchant of Venice have often elicited more sympathy for Shylock than ever before, this production is different: it is performed by Māori actors entirely in the Māori language (with subtitles in contemporary English); was shot in Aotearoa New Zealand; and incorporates elements of Māori culture into all of its scenes, especially those set inPortia's home, Belmont, which becomes an imaginary Māori kingdom [End Page 425] with elements of a spirit world. Portia's four rejected suitors are the only Pākehā (Europeans) in the film.

This is the first full-length feature film ever made in the Māori language and the first Shakespeare film produced in New Zealand. After the New Zealand Film Commission rejected ten applications for funding over as many years, the film was made with the support of Te Mangai Paho, the state funding body for Māori language film and television projects. Don C Selwyn, its director, is described in the film's online media kit as having had a lifelong "commitment to the revitalization of the Maori language," and being "a leading proponent of Maori drama, performed in both Maori and English," as well as "a prime mover in encouraging respect for Maori viewpoints and culture in mainstream New Zealand film and television drama." Selwyn was one of the founding members of the New Zealand MaoriTheatre Trust, which aimed to "extend opportunities for Maori performers in Maori opera and theatre." From 1984 to 1990 he ran "a film and television training course called He Taonga I Tawhiti (Gifts from Afar) for Maori and Pacific people to give them the technical skills to enable them to tell their own stories. 120 people went through the course" (film website media...


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