11 Movies & TV Series That Give Power to the Voices of Pacific Islanders

(Photo by Array Releasing, © Lightyear Entertainment, © MPI Media, Waves)

It’s AAPI Heritage Month, and I’m thrilled to be highlighting more Pacific Island-focused content — whether it’s talent on camera or behind-the-scenes creators bringing us stories that show us in our fullness.

So what constitutes the content of the Pacific Ocean? For me, it’s more than just props. Hollywood has always pushed us to the side in favor of our white counterparts. For example, 1953 back to heavenIt is set in Samoa or the 1961 Elvis Presley movie Blue Hawaii and 1966 Hawaii. Fast forward 50 years and it’s the same deal in 2004 50 first dates2015 AlohaAnd, most recently, 2021 white lotus on HBO Max, which was critically acclaimed despite its setting in Hawaii’i and not showing any Native Hawaiian leads.

It’s also more than just having a Pacific Islander as a lead character as well. While our narratives don’t have to revolve around our cultural identities and practices, if they somehow don’t enter the equation and we can easily turn on actors from outside the Pacific, I don’t really consider it a Pacific story. that’s good! We can still cheer on the work of our favorite Pacifica designers and realize that some products don’t have us in mind when it comes to target audiences (as long as it’s not an issue and/or sells the culture).

Acting is important, right? Yes and no. “The importance of representation” sounds like an old catchphrase because not all representation is good. It is important that you do something to elevate and advance our image, our diversity, our humanity, and all the other good things forward. With that in mind, I present to you some of my favorite images of Pacific Islanders that give nuance, depth, and strength to our vision and our voices.


You can discover Hawaii in countless TV shows and movies, but Waikiki It is the first feature film written and directed by Native Hawaiian Christopher Kahnana. It’s something I definitely felt as I remained fascinated by its raw energy, stripped of all the routine magic and tourist fantasies that the world has associated with Hawaii. This is Hollywood, but it is not what the natives live for. Danielle Zalubani was perfectly represented in her role as Kia Dancer. As she struggles for her survival and sanity, we get a real sense of Kanaka Maule’s plight, but also where the true beauty and strength of Hawaii lies: in the people, in the land, and in their relationship to one another.


Playwright/film director Vilsoni Hereniko presents us with the first feature film written and directed by a Fijian native, set in his native Rotuma. It’s a powerful tale about a young Rotuman woman, Viki (Sapeta Taito), tireless on her mission to clear her father’s name after being wrongly accused of theft. It is always a pleasure to see stories from outside the dominant islands told that reflect the diversity of the Pacific, and Hereniko does an excellent job of bringing us into his world in his directorial debut.


Poster image outside the country

(Photograph of the standard channel)

A tender documentary from Native Hawaiian filmmaker Ciara Lacey, who investigates the effects of the prison industrial complex on Native Hawaiians. It follows two Kanaka Mauli men who are sent to a privately owned facility in Arizona. It is heartbreaking and inspiring to see them find a sense of belonging with their colleagues, including an elderly man serving a life sentence helping them rediscover their cultural heritage. After they complete their sentences, Lacy turns to the struggles of returning to the islands and reintegrating back into life at home.


Let’s wait It follows Joey Joleen Mataele, a prominent figure and LGBT activist in the Tongan community and the beautiful Leiti I first met on my travels to Tonga in 2008. As a Samoan queer, it has always been important to me to highlight the diversity of sexual expression and sexuality in the ocean The Pacific has long been banned and demonized due to church and colonialism. Joy leads LGBT rights through initiatives such as the Tonga Leitis Association (a network that provides support and shelter for inflammation), Miss Galaxy (the Miss Leitis contest), and in 2016, culminates her work in a national debate on LGBT rights while facing fierce opposition from church groups. The movie was produced and directed by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, who also brought us place in the middle And komo hina – Make sure you watch them all.


Portrait of Cousins ​​(2021)

(Photo by Array Releasing)

Written, directed, produced and represented by Mäori women, Cousins Pack (and unpack) a lot into 90 Minutes: The devastation of Māori colonization, the power of Wanau, the call to heal intergenerational trauma, and much more. Featuring great performance and cinematography, this is a must-do.


A tragic love story in Vanuatu based on a real-life marriage dispute. When Wawa (Mary Wawa) is arranged to marry a stranger she doesn’t like, her relationship with Dain (Mungau Dain) becomes threatened. Choosing what their heart desires over cultural expectations has a price. As mentioned earlier wirh the earth has eyesWe are finally starting to see more and more stories depicting Pacific Islanders who have been erased from discourse for so long. In this case, our dark-skinned Melanesian communities take center stage and we get to experience the beauty, language, dance, and customs of the island of Tana.


Picture from Cascaters

(Photo by SBSAU)

You can’t help but love every minute of this show about a beautiful Maori couple who run a funeral home in Aotearoa. He shows such deep love, care and respect for all the Pacific cultures and the families they encounter, and with a sense of humor too. You will laugh and cry in every episode.


Robbie Magaseva as Will Jackson at Wentworth Prison

(Photo by FOXTEL)

While Wentworth Prison Veteran Samoan actor Robbie Magasiva may not focus on PI themes, as he plays Officer Will Jackson, a chaotic but lovable prison warden in Australia’s most notorious women’s prison. While the ladies are the main attraction, Will’s character was one of the best, and Robbie kept it. After he’s been in the game for so long and has been a huge influence representing Pacific Rim with the likes of leading comedy group Naked Samoans, it’s great to see his career continue to thrive, so expect to see more of him soon.


These are the things that nightmares are made of. Maori filmmaker James Ashcroft takes us on a wilderness journey of revenge that will make you think twice about exploring the New Zealand countryside. It features great performances from Maori actress Miriyama McDowell and fearsome Samoan actor Matthias Lofoto as well. Not for the faint of heart.


Naz Kawakami every day in Kaimoke

(Photo by Submarine)

A gentle semi-autobiographical depiction of a slice of Hawaiian life from Native Hawaiian writer and director Alika Tangan. It’s no surprise that the masked leader, Naz Kawakami (who also co-wrote the script), casts a version of his journey as a radio host dreaming of a bigger and better life off the island. It’s a realistic depiction of what his generation lives in small towns and the different points of view when it comes to the concept of the “good life,” whether it’s feeling good about what you have or wanting to get out there and reach the limit. Ability. Tenjan lets us see both without judgment.


Mirata: How did my mother decolonize the screen

(Photo by Array Releasing)

Mirata It is a loving tribute to Maori activist, pioneer, and devoted mother Mirata Mita as narrated by her son Heberi Mita, who directed the film. As the first Maori woman to write and direct only a feature film, Mirata paved the way for indigenous filmmakers globally, and Heberi beautifully captures his mother’s legacy.


Christian Fannin Schmidt He was born and raised in Porero, Aotearoa/New Zealand while his parents hail from Samoa. He has an academic background in Pacific Studies, Law and Education, and was VJ with MTV Australia before moving to Los Angeles where he now writes for several publications including The Root, Color Bloq and Sundance Institute.

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