Whale Rider
2002
***
Director: Niki Caro
Cast: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa

12-year-old Maori girl Paikea comes from a long line of chieftains, but her grandfather is a bullheaded traditionalist who refuses to accept that the new tribe leader could be a girl. Paikea’s uplifting coming-of-age story is beautifully filmed and strongly acted (Keisha Castle-Hughes is very impressive in her debut), but it leaves a bad aftertaste. Most family films teach children to be their own lovable selves; the protagonist of this manipulative drama needs to be one notch below God just to be accepted by her own family member. Director Niki Caro adapted Witi Ihimaera’s novel.