Whale Riders Film Analysis

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When choosing a film for this assignment, my original choice was Bend It Like Beckham because I had heard of it and I had a general idea what it was about. I then decided that I wanted to take on a more challenging film, one that I had never heard of, and one that I would really have to study to understand its full meaning. After looking into a few of the listed movies, I ended up choosing Whale Rider, a drama filmed in New Zealand in 2002.

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After watching the movie two times, I feel that I now understand some of the more drastic cultural and gender based problems that are occurring today.

The film’s plot follows the story of Paikea Apirana, yet she goes by the name Pai in the film. Pai is a 12-year-old girl who is the only remaining child in the line of the tribe’s chiefly succession after the death of her twin brother and mother when she was born. By tradition, the leader of the tribe should be the first-born son, or a direct descendant of Pai’s family. Yet because there is no direct male descendant, Pai’s grandfather Koro Apirana has to find the next male leader amongst their tribe.

Koro is the current leader of the tribe and has to set up a series of tasks that are required to become the next leader of the tribe. Unfortunately, Pai is female and technically cannot inherit the leadership. Throughout the movie, Pai’s grandmother Nanny Flowers encourages her to train just as the boys of the tribe do to hopefully convince her grandfather to name her the new leader. One of the final tasks to be named the tribe leader is to retrieve a whale’s tooth from the sea by riding the back of a whale out to sea, hence the name of the film being Whale Rider.

After watching this film, I feel that the director Niki Caro is trying to explore the ways that gender and power are exemplified in certain cultures around the world. I feel that the main example from this film involves the main character Pai being female and how that limits what she can and cannot do in her tribe. The tribe’s past history has always told them that a male should be leader and that females are to never be in power in any way, shape, or form. When the young boys are training with Koro to hopefully become the next descendent to be leader of the tribe, Pai is still not allowed to take part in the events.

I feel that gender issues are also present in the everyday life of people all around the world, not just in this particular small tribe. It is a proven fact that in America, the average wage of men is higher than the average wage of women. Men also tend to hold higher positions in various labor industries across the country. Gender discrimination has always been a major issue in many societies around the world, yet many feminists groups around the world are slowly making the issue diminish. Another aspect of the film that Niki Caro explores is the way the power and control affects the lives of anyone in a given society.

In the film, Pai’s grandfather Koro exerts his power over Pai by informing her that she will never be leader of the tribe due to her gender. Throughout the film he continuously tells her that she is the reason that the tribe may be at its final downfall. Even though she did nothing wrong, her being female makes her grandfather feel let down. Koro is in charge of everything that the people of the tribe do on a regular basis. He is the person who makes all of the decisions and controls all events. The presence of his power makes him seem like more of an intimidating figure who can control the lives of others.

This leads to my first concept from our reading that was illustrated in Whale Rider which is Ideology of Patriarchy, or the structural dominance of men that is built into the institutions of society. Whale Rider exemplified the Ideology of Patriarchy perfectly because of how Koro ran his tribe. For generations, this tribe was always told that a man is to be the leader. When Pai is the only remaining family descendent, Koro becomes aggravated because she is female and will not be able to carry on the tradition of men as leaders.

As the movie progresses, you begin to notice that Koro is slowly starting to accept the fact that maybe his granddaughter is fit to be a leader of their tribe. This leads to the second concept that I feel was expressed which is the idea of identification and the extent to which an individual is likely to make a decision that aligns with organizational objectives. When Koro originally has the feeling that Pai is not suitable to be leader, he is under the impression that he has to find someone outside of the family to take over his role once he passes.

He soon realizes that the real thing that he should be focusing on is keeping the leader role in the family. Identification is accomplished by accepting the importance of family and what it means to be true and respecting of those who are closest to you in your life. The theory of identification also carries over to idea of the control that Koro has over his tribe. When Koro initially begins scouting young boys around the tribe in order to find his next leader, he set up training and a series of tasks each person needed to succeed with.

Koro exerts what is my third concept of concertive control, or when explicit written rules are replaced by common understanding of values, objectives, and means of achievement, along with a deep appreciation for the organization’s mission. During Koro’s training of the young boys, Pai was secretly training with her uncle who knows all of the ways of fighting and training needed to succeed. When Pai defeats a young student of Koro’s in a fight, Koro becomes very upset but begins to realize that she may be the most suitable for the leader role.

Koro eventually understands that the value of keeping the leadership role in the family is the most important objective, even if the descendant is female. This leads to the final concept that the film expresses which is the role of gender in society and the different aspects of how gender is treated in this particular tribe. From our readings, we learned that gender is socially constructed depending on the society’s specific views and morals. In this tribe, females are not able to hold any type of leadership role. We also learned that gender is learned and performed.

Typical themes of femininity could be classified as sensitive, caring, beautiful, and in some cases accept negative treatment. Even though Pai had always grown up learning what it meant to be a girl and a woman, she had to learn certain aspect of masculinity in order to become leader of the tribe. She had to learn how to fight, how to train, and how hold a position of power of a group of people. Pai was able to show her family and the people of her tribe that a female can do anything a male can do and do it just as successfully. Whale Rider taught me a lot of different aspects the ways that people treat others in society.

I have never agreed with the idea that men can always do things better than women, but this film really pressed that into my mind. I now have a whole new appreciation for feminists and everything that they stand for. Women have the same rights that men do and should be given the same amount of opportunities in life. I feel that Whale Rider was a great film that was able to show the viewers how power and control really affects people. This film was the perfect way to show the world what it really means to stick up for yourself and fight for what you believe in.