In Melanie Walls’ “Stereotypical Constructions of the Maori ‘Race’ in the Media” it is highlighted that there are four main stereotypes of Maori within media. The first being the ‘comic other’ who provides comic relief, the ‘natural athlete’ who draws on their ‘primitive’ nature to fight and wage war, the ‘political radical activist’ who is socially deviant and the ‘quintessential Maori’ which is produced by Maori content makers (Wall, 42-44). You do not need to search far to find reproductions of these stereotypes. I will be comparing the uses of them in Jane Campion’s “The Piano” and Taika Waititi’s “Boy”.
The Piano is set in colonial New Zealand and follows Ada in her relocation from
Scotland to the west coast. You would think, since this is taking place in the mid 19th century, that the cast would be largely Maori and so would offer many different developments to their characters. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Maori people within The Piano merely provide a backdrop. They are often seen behind the central characters, physically mocking them and providing a few laughs, fulfilling the ‘comic other’ position.
Boy explores beyond the ‘quintessential Maori’ throughout the film. With Alamein discovering what it means to be Maori in 1980s New Zealand, all areas of his character are explored. He is shown to be an intelligent, funny, driven individual with lots of “potential”. The film does not rely on old stereotypes to communicate to the audience, instead, it takes the time, passion and respect to display a
boy experiencing the ups and downs that come with growing up and how they shape him. It is a story that comes from Waititi and so he is able to speak from real experience resulting in a real character.
Campion, Jane. The Piano. 1993, feature film, CiBy 2000.
Wall, Melanie, “Stereotypical Constructions of the Maori ‘Race’ in the Media” New Zealand Geographer, vol 53 (2), 1997, pp. 40-45.
Waititi, Taika. Boy. 2010, feautre film, Unison Films.