Whale Rider (2002) – Niki Caro

The beautifully crafted film, Whale Rider, adapted for the screen and directed by Niki Caro from the book by Witi Ihimaera is the next title up in Ten Bad Dates With De Niro, as I work through a list of titles that will make you cry.

Set amongst the Maori people in Whangara, New Zealand, the film it a tale of love, rejection, and triumph that resonates across cultures and age groups. At the tale’s heart is young Piakea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), a girl who has been left to live with her nan (Vicky Haughton) and the the tribe’s chief, Koro (Rawiri Paratene).

Koro is bound, and blinded by patriarchal tradition, believing that only a male from his line can become chief, and though he loves his granddaughter, she is of little use to him in terms of helping out with the tribe.

This, rightly, hurts and devastates Piakea, and as Koro begins to educate the young boys of the tribe, in the hopes of finding a new suitable chief, she begins to listen, practise, and find ways to prove herself to her grandfather, who may be so blind to possibilities that it will take something extraordinary for him to see what is right before him.


A powerful film driven by the contrasting performances of Castle-Hughes and Paratene, the viewer can’t help become invested in the characters, and while one can understand the traditions that have long been handed down, you can also see that to survive, a culture must be open to change.

But it is the story of a girl’s love for her grandfather, and the final return of that love back which resonates through the chambers of the heart.

The story is quiet, involving, and wraps you up in its narrative before you even realise it. It’s a beautifully crafted tale, brilliantly brought together, and yes, I will openly admit, got my teary-eyed as the list title suggested it would.

There is some stunning camera footage of whales, which are a combination of real, computer-generated, and practical effects, and you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which, because they all look so realistic.

Filled with drama, humour, and an empowering story, Whale Rider deserved all the accolades it received upon release (I remember seeing it on the racks of my video store), and it remains an inspiring and beautiful film.

So if you want a good cry (Piakea’s speech at school tore my heart out) then check this one out again or for the fist time, or pick up a copy of Ten Bad Dates With De Niro and find something else extraordinary to watch.




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