Whale Rider

July 4th, 2003


Whale Rider

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Still of Rawiri Paratene and Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale RiderWhale RiderNiki Caro and Keisha Castle-Hughes at event of Whale RiderWhale RiderStill of Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale RiderStill of Rawiri Paratene in Whale Rider

A contemporary story of love, rejection and triumph as a young Maori girl fights to fulfill a destiny her grandfather refuses to recognize.

Release Year: 2002

Rating: 7.7/10 (24,689 voted)

Critic's Score: 79/100

Director: Niki Caro

Stars: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton

On the east coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people believe their presence there dates back a thousand years or more to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale. From then on, Whangara chiefs, always the first-born, always male, have been considered Paikea's direct descendants. Pai, an 11-year-old girl in a patriarchal New Zealand tribe, believes she is destined to be the new chief. But her grandfather Koro is bound by tradition to pick a male leader. Pai loves Koro more than anyone in the world, but she must fight him and a thousand years of tradition to fulfill her destiny.

Writers: Niki Caro, Witi Ihimaera

Keisha Castle-Hughes - Paikea
Rawiri Paratene - Koro
Vicky Haughton - Nanny Flowers
Cliff Curtis - Porourangi
Grant Roa - Uncle Rawiri
Mana Taumaunu - Hemi
Rachel House - Shilo
Taungaroa Emile - Willie
Tammy Davis - Dog
Mabel Wharekawa - Maka (as Mabel Wharekawa-Burt)
Rawinia Clarke - Miro
Tahei Simpson - Miss Parata
Roi Taimana - Hemi's Dad (as Roimata Taimana)
Elizabeth Skeen - Rehua
Tyronne White - Jake (as Tyrone White)

Taglines: In the ways of the Ancients, she found a hope for the future


Official Website: Official site | Official site [Germany] |

Release Date: 4 July 2003

Filming Locations: Henderson Valley Studios, Hickory Avenue, Henderson, Auckland, New Zealand

Box Office Details

Budget: NZD 6,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $137,418 (USA) (8 June 2003) (9 Screens)

Gross: $41,442,113 (Worldwide)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

Niki Caro said during the director's commentary that Pai's crying speech scene was done in one take, but using two cameras. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties there was a short break however, in which time Keisha Castle-Hughes's tutor and chaperon helped her to stay in character in with the same emotions.

Continuity: The father and grandfather are arguing after the slide show, and the father goes to pull down the white sheet that was hung over some drapes to act as a screen. He pulls it down, along with the rod and orange drapes that the sheet was hanging from. Moments later, the drapes are back up in place and hanging perfectly straight, and there wasn't enough time for him to re-hang the drapes.

[first lines]
Paikea: In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness. It was waiting. Waiting to be filled up. Waiting for someone to love it. Waiting for a leader.
[child birth scene]
Paikea: And he came on the back of a whale. A man to lead a new people. Our ancestor, Paikea. But now we were waiting for the firstborn of the new generation, for the descendant of the whale rider. For the boy who would be chief.
Paikea: There was no gladness when I was born. My twin brother died, and took our mother with him.

User Review

Pai will be my leader!

Rating: 9/10

This film, which opened in New York recently, was a total surprise. Director Niki Caro has done wonders in bringing this story to the screen as it shows a different and much simple world than the rat race of our society and the horrible times we live in.

The film presents a glimpse of the Maori society in New Zealand's North Island. Having visited New Zealand, but not being very familiar with the Maori culture, this film was a refreshing way to learn some aspects of it.

The story presented here has a lot to do with pride and tradition, which is a running theme among different cultural groups the world over. It has to do with the frustration of Koro by the defection of his eldest son, the designated heir of hundred years of a bloodline where only the males can carry the knowledge and the legends from one generation to the next.

Because of the rage Porourangi, the eldest son, feels after the death of his wife giving birth to twins, where only the female survives, he leaves his country and the baby girl is taken by the grandparents. The girl, Pai, will grow to be an enchanting girl who will be excluded from the teachings of her grandfather Koro. Even though he loves the girl, he can't deviate in his narrow vision of the world he knows.

Basically, it is a simple story very well told with a great performance by the child actress Keisha Castle-Hughes. This girl has such a strong magnetism while on camera that one tends to forget the rest of the other characters every time she appears. The grandparents are very well portrayed by Rawiri Paratene and Vicky Houghton.

This is a film for all ages to enjoy. Compare it with the latest releases from Hollywood, and it's no wonder to arrive at the conclusion that stories like Whale Rider have such an universal appeal that should be brought to the screen more often because of the positive way they show a society and its people at its best.


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