Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! What a time to be alive. To be here today because of our ancestors, because of their resilience, courage and love. We are here today because they made sure of it. One of the many gifts our ancestors blessed us with is the gift of storytelling. To give meaning to the craft itself and transform and transcend mediums of storytelling. Colonizers wish they could replicate our magic, but they stay mediocre (at best).
Off Colour asked me to put together some of my favourite stories I’ve consumed and have yet to bear witness to. From the Torres Strait to Aotearoa, we provide the most exciting, memorable and heartbreaking stories.
My favourite film of 2020, VAI, will leave you breathless by the stunning storytelling implemented throughout. VAI is a story about one woman’s journey that looks at many themes. Such as climate change, Indigenous knowledge, colonization, and so much more. The twist with how the story is told is that Vai is represented by different women from different walks of life and Islands. Showcasing how this may be one woman’s story, but many of us in the Pacific can relate.
Her life, spanning from a child to an elder, illustrates the strength we have and possess and how it is handed down to our children, no matter how far they find themselves from home. One thing to note, that only a few of the islands that do make up Oceania.l (Also known as Pasifiki, Pasifika, and many other names that collectively describe Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia) are represented within the film.
I was fortunate to watch Boy when it first came out. A small theatre release, for Oscar-winning director, Taika Waititi. Boy transformed the culture in both Aotearoa and so-called Australia. All the kids would show off their Michael Jackson moves and make “egk” or “egg” an even more popular slang word. Growing up, everyone wanted to be Boy or be as cool as Chardonnay, Dynasty or Dallas.
The film focuses on Boy, a Māori child living in Bay of Plenty with his younger brother Rocky. Boy thinks his father is an outstanding citizen, imagining him as a war hero and even a deep-sea diver. But the harsh reality of who his father is hits him as soon as he returns from jail, looking for money he had misplaced after a robbery seven years ago. Boy confronts the man he idolized while doing everything an 11-year-old Māori boy can do in 1984. Boy was also James Rolleston’s breakout role, which led to him leading films like The Dead Lands and Lowdown Dirty Criminals.
Speaking of The Dead Lands, Blood Quantum is an apocalyptic zombie film where the dead rise up. Except those who are Indigenous and strangely immune. I have yet to watch the movie and have only seen snippets of Natives slicing and dicing the dead. We need more Indigenous horror, but most importantly, films that explore how the apocalypse has constantly been occurring but just evolves. Natives killing the dead and looking badass while doing so is the only reason I need to watch Blood Quantum during lockdown. But also the whole idea that Natives are immune introduces so many themes. Like colonization, Indigeneity, climate change, connection to the land and mainly the movie’s title, blood quantum.
I have watched many films where the protagonist is Aboriginal. From Bran Nue Dae, 10 Canoes, Charlie’s Country, Top End Wedding, and many more. But one film I have yet to watch but am very excited about is Sweet Country, directed by Warwick Thorton. Sam is an Aboriginal man who works for the preacher who sends Sam to work for his new neighbour, Harry, an ill-tempered war veteran. Sam and Harry’s relationship changes quickly and suddenly, resulting in Sam defending himself, shooting Harry, and killing him instantly. The killing of a whitefulla is an instant crime. Sam goes on the run with his wife, trying to escape Sergent Fletcher; who is in charge of his hunting party. We find out what justice really looks like on stolen land complimented by beautiful landscapes of the bush and desert country and the harsh reality of surviving it.
The Cloud Have Stories
There aren’t any films by Torres Strait Islanders about Torres Strait Islanders, sadly, and hopefully, one day there will be (and maybe stay tuned with what I’m filming!). However, The Clouds Have Stories documentary is a fantastic tribute to our people. I may be biased in including this documentary on the list because my grandfather, Segar Passi, is one of the main artists behind the documentary. However, this documentary showcases the myths and legends, the lyrical ways we connect with song, words and dance, and so much more.
This documentary is close to my heart, it shows you my home, my Papa, my Nan (who is no longer with us), my siblings/cousins, and even I am in the background sitting at my grandmother’s feet. It showcases our culture and the artists behind the exhibition of the Torres Strait that was installed in 2011 in Meanjin, colonially known as Brisbane, Australia. It is a love letter to my people. A love letter to our future. It is everything I adore in a film. It is a reflection of who we are and the road to sharing. This documentary will always stay with me, and so will my Papa’s words “You have tasted the fruit of the Wongai tree, one day you will come back to Torres Strait”. The film can be viewed here.
This is the only short film included in this list, and it is the only animated film as well. With so much mana and love weaved throughout the movie, it was hard not to include such a powerful story on the list. Told through Olelo Niihau, the film tells the story of extraordinary Indigenous individuals, Kapaemahu, Kapuni, Kinohi, Kahaloa. They embody both male and female spirit and brought their healing gifts from Tahiti to Hawai’i. They healed the people and even taught the people how to heal themselves. Kānaka Maoli wanted to pay tribute to the individuals, who they called Mahu, and moved four boulders from Kaimuki to Waikiki to honour them.
The healers, adored and loved by everyone, transferred their powers to the boulders and, with that, disappeared as the sun rose. The stones have withstood everything, from invasion to a bowling alley built on top of where they stood. They have now been recovered, but the history behind the stones have always been hidden. That is until this film was made. This film will pull at your heartstrings in just under eight minutes, and it will leave you wanting more stories from Kanaka. Kapaemahu was like a warm blanket being wrapped around me, holding me. I can only imagine what it means to Kanaka, especially Mahu in Hawaii. You can watch the film here.
Rutherford Falls had me giggling and yearning for more. I haven’t finished season 1 yet, but I can tell you it’s full of great humour, takes on capitalism and beading galore! Rutherford Falls is a town where two best friends, Nathan Rutherford and Reagan Wells, with historical connections to the place, come at a crossroads to their friendship when Nathan fights the moving of a statue of one of his ancestors in the middle of a road. While working on her museum that preserves Indigenous history, Reagan befriends journalist Josh Cogan, who seeks to break the story of Nathan’s legal fight. With love in the air and so many great laughs along the way, Rutherford Falls is a refreshing story with so many possibilities. I’m looking forward to finishing the series after knowing they’ve been renewed for a season 2!
I am currently watching Reservation Dogs for Off Colour, and can I say, that Skorden is so close to Gorn Den; it was like I was listening to kids on my block, talking and getting up to no good. Humour holds the entire story together, with the actors allowing themselves to embody their characters in their entirety, pulling off jokes that Indigenous people everywhere can relate to. In the first episode, we meet our main characters, Bear, Elora, Willie and Cheese, stealing a truck full of Flaming Flamers chips.
Later on, we find out their motive behind their stealing and up-to-no-good plans; they’re trying to secure enough money to escape the reservation and head to the exotic and faraway lands of California. I’m only three episodes in, and I can tell you right now, Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo knew exactly what they were doing when they created Reservation Dogs. A show that will keep audiences wanting more, Reservation Dogs is a must-watch, and lucky for you, today is its release day!
When I first saw the trailer for Cousins, I had goosebumps. A story that transcends generations and one that is all too common. The official synopsis is as follows – ‘Cousins’ follows three Māori cousins—Mata, Missy and Makareta—who lead separate lives yet are bound together forever. Orphaned Mata believes she has no whānau (family) and lives out her lonely childhood in fear and bewilderment. Back home on the land in New Zealand, driven and educated, Makareta flees an arranged marriage to study law and begin the search for her missing cousin. She leaves behind cheeky yet dutiful Missy, who takes on her role of kaitiaki (guardian) of the land. As the years pass and land surveyors begin to encroach, their promise to bring their stolen cousin home seems more unlikely than ever, until a chance encounter changes everything.” (Array)
Based on the novel with the same name by Patricia Grace, Cousins was published in 1992 but is still relevant to our times. It tells the story of displacement and removal, mourning and grieving, responsibilities and duty, and many themes that reflect what it is to be Māori in Aotearoa. I’m excited to watch the newly released film, but I’m afraid that all I will be doing is sobbing while watching.
I Am Not A Witch
Last but not least, I Am Not A Witch. I have yet to watch the film and plan on doing so in lockdown here in Meanjin. As soon as I saw the leading actress Maggie Mulubwa pop up in the trailer, I knew it was a film I had to be ready for, as she switches from a happy child, smiling and laughing, to a child with no emotion, stagnant, empty, waiting to be saved. Maggie plays Shula, a child in a remote Zambian community who is accused of being a witch.
She is scooped up by Mr. Banda, who enrols her in his school of witches, who are not children themselves, but elderly women, who try to teach Shula how to harness her supposed powers. The trailer teases at the usage of comedy to examine serious themes with a lighthearted touch. I suspect this will change suddenly and drastically, pulling us down to earth forcing us to look at the humanity of all the characters. Nevertheless, I’m pretty excited about the film and can’t wait to sink my teeth in.
These are just ten Indigenous films and shows. There are many more out there that deserve to be watched and shared! So please share your favourite Indigenous story below, or tell us a story you’re looking forward to!