Whale Rider is a 2002 New Zealand-German family drama film directed by Niki Caro. Based on the novel of the same name by Witi Ihimaera, the film stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as Kahu Paikea Apirana, a twelve-year-old Māori girl whose ambition is to become the chief of the tribe. The film was a co-production between New Zealand and Germany. It was shot on location in Whangara, the setting of the novel. The world premiere was on 9 September 2002, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The film received critical acclaim upon its release. At age 13, Keisha Castle-Hughes became the youngest nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actress before she was surpassed by Quvenzhané Wallis, at age 9, for Beasts of the Southern Wild less than a decade later. In 2005 the film was named to the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.
Only males are allowed to ascend to chiefdom in a Maori tribe in New Zealand. This ancient custom is upset when the child selected to be the next chief dies at birth. However, his twin sister, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), survives. At age 12, she enlists the help of her grandmother (Vicky Haughton) and the training of her uncle (Grant Roa) to claim her birthright. According to tradition, the leader should be the first-born grandson – a direct patrilineal descendant of Paikea, the Whale Rider – he who rode on top of a whale (Tohora) from Hawaiki. But to break with convention, Pai will have to do the impossible: win over her ultra-traditional grandfather (Rawiri Paratene), proving her worthiness. So please join us on Saturday, April 27 at 3 PM at the New Parkway Theater for Whale Rider with a post-movie discussion led by members of KPFA’s APEX Express!