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Reviewed by:
  • The Pā Boys dir. by Himiona Grace
  • Vilsoni Hereniko
The Pā Boys. Feature film, 93 minutes, dvd pal, color, 2014. Written and directed by Himiona Grace; produced by Ainsley Gardiner and Mina Mathieson. Distributed by Whenua Films Ltd and New Zealand Film Commission. nz $39.95.

When I showed The Pā Boys to my undergraduate film students at the University of Hawai‘i in November 2014, many students clapped spontaneously at the end of the screening. This type of response had not happened during the semester’s previous screenings of indigenous films from Hawai‘i, New Zealand, Australia, and North America.

Based on my students’ reviews, The Pā Boys illustrated most clearly to them what we had been studying all semester about indigenous aesthetics in filmmaking. Here is a film that is accessible to them and yet unashamedly indigenous. Most importantly, they could see clearly how cultural values and sensibilities can be successfully integrated into a screen story that is entertaining, soulful, and important.

The Pā Boys had its US premiere at the 2014 Hawai‘i International Film Festival (hiff) alongside Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows. At previous hiff festivals, films dealing with Māori issues and representations such as Barry Barclay’s Te Rua, Geoff Murphy’s Utu, Merata Mita’s Mauri, Lee Tamahori’s Once Were Warriors, Niki Caro’s Whale Rider, Don Selwyn’s The Maori Merchant of Venice, and Taika Waititi’s Boy (to name a few) had been screened, some to overflowing crowds and rave reviews. The Pā Boys, however, made a relatively quiet appearance at hiff. There was no fanfare, no media hype, or award. And yet, even though each of the Māori films mentioned above is a significant achievement in Māori filmmaking, none of those films thrilled or moved me as deeply as this low-budget film.

The Pā Boys is about three “boy” musicians who form a reggae band under that name. The band’s leader Danny (Fran Kora) is also the guitarist, while the other boys are the drummer, referred to as Cityboy (Tola Newbery), and the bass player Tau (Matariki Whatarau). They are joined on their road trip by two girl friends, Jo (Roimata Fox), the manager, and Puti (Juanita Hepi), the estranged girlfriend of Danny and mother of his little boy. All five are talented actors whose subtle performances never distracted me from the story itself.

Feminists may take issue with the emphasis on the male characters in the film, although the title underscores the film’s focus on the boys, rather than the girls, in the band. Māori men, after all, are usually portrayed on screen as violent and uncaring, incapable of holding the family together; the focus on masculinity and contemporary young men’s experience in The Pā Boys is therefore both a timely and important intervention.

Writer-director Himiona Grace wanted to tell a story about “young Maori men from the inside, as opposed to outsiders’ views.” He says he grew up “knowing our people, the passion, talent, and aroha we have and show for each other” (pers comm, 6 Jan 2015). We see this in Danny and Tau’s love for the same woman (Puti), which complicates their affection for [End Page 573] each other. When Danny spontaneously belts out his deep love for his woman in an improvised song, the passion and the desperation in his voice is so authentic it is heartbreaking. We feel his pain if for no other reason than the knowledge that it is only through his music that he can be so articulate and revealing—and so vulnerable. The reconciliation scene between the two men is so tender and sympathetic it drew attention to its novelty on screen. Their affection for each other culminates in Tau’s request and “gift” to Danny before his final breath—and this gift allows Danny to breathe in his Māori identity as well as find love again.

The character of Uncle Toa (Calvin Tuteao), who mentors the Pā boys on their life-changing journey, is the most dignified and compassionate representation of any Māori male I have ever seen...


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pp. 573-576
Launched on MUSE
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