Tuesday, October 6, 2020

White Lies: the many colors of savagery

Greetings, commies!

Racial relations seem to be a hot topic.  The lot of the Maori people in New Zealand is not frequently explored in literature and film. At least it's not on the radar for American audiences who deal with conflicts of their own. I really hope you take the time to watch this great historical film White Lies.


White Lies is a story about the nature of identity: those who deny it and those who strive to protect it. Paraiti (Whirimako Black) is a medicine woman. She is the healer and midwife of her rural, tribal people - she believes in life, but new laws prohibit unlicensed healers. On a rare trip to the city, she is approached by Maraea (Rachel House), the servant of a wealthy woman, Rebecca (Antonia Prebble), who seeks her knowledge and assistance to hide a secret that could destroy Rebecca's position in European settler society. If the secret is uncovered, a life may be lost, but hiding it may also have fatal consequences. Paraiti, Maraea and Rebecca thus become players in a head on clash of beliefs, deception and ultimate salvation.

My thoughts: 

I hope you have the patience and restraint to sit through this movie. Resist the temptation to draw conclusions and make judgments on the characters as they appear in the first 20 minutes of the film. I have a pretty strong stomach, and I will say that I was very tempted to abandon the film. The reason for it was fear of the film turning into a tear-jerker that demonizes the collective Westerner. I am glad I did not walk away. One of the most intriguing moments about this movie is that the main Bad Guy - the infamous white colonial man - never makes a stage entrance. After the opening scene with the soldiers you never really see the "patriarchal tyrant". Mr. Vickers, whose rage Rebecca dreads, never shows his face. That makes the viewer wonder if he was truly as horrible as the Rebecca's servant portrayed him. I thought it was wise on behalf of the director to keep him behind the curtain. A little bit of mystery and ambiguity only add to the overall air of dread. Mr. Vickers almost becomes a boogeyman. I also applaud the writer for highlighting that tyranny, in this case male and western, is not possible without compliance and participation from women. In this particular situation, a working class Maori woman, serves as the guardian of that toxic regime. She internalizes her sense of social and racial inferiority and somehow turns it into weapon. 

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