Whale Rider

Whale Rider

1. How is Paikea a female counter-stereotype? Use the “female gaze” theory to describe how the film and the character fit this model of the female perspective and female “voice”. Use the web link provided in Week 11 module on the Female Gaze (the Rubaiyat Hossain article, “Female Directors, Female Gaze”).

Female director Niki Caro does an excellent job of showing the viewer life through the eyes of an 11 year old Maori girl named Paikea. Right from the beginning the viewer is introduced to what would be her struggle: “Everyone was waiting for the first-born boy to lead us.  But he died.  And I didn’t.” (Caro, 2002) Paikea believed that she came from a long line of chiefs, and that she would be the next leader. She is part of the Maori tribe and their tradition, but she will have to change their views. This shows that she is a counter stereotype because she persists against her grandfather’s wishes at every step. She deeply loves and respects Koro, but persists because she believes that it is her destiny. She does this while not resenting Koro in any way for his disbelief in her and continues to love and respect him in the same way even though she knows that her being a girl is a great disappointment to him. “My Koro wished in his heart that I had never been born.” (Caro, 2002) Through her understanding and persistence, she eventually establishes herself as the whale rider. “Against all social odds and taboos, Caro’s protagonist establishes herself as the prophet, breaking the myth that only men can be prophets, spiritual leaders and reach the highest state of spiritual excellence.” (Hossain, 2011)

Other than Koro, most characters in the film are if not accepting of Paikea, at least neutral to her desire to learn the ways of the ancients. Her grandfather forbids her to participate, but Hemi and Uncle Rawiri try to help her on her journey. Nanny Flowers, also, is a strong force for Paikea. She believes in her and forces Koro, right from the beginning to be a part of Paikea’s life and not disown her because she is a girl. In this film Paikea is shown dealing with unusual and significant issues, and she succeeds because she persists and believes. This reinforces her as a counter-stereotype.

2. How is Whale Rider a statement of empowerment for women and girls? How does Paikea challenge gendered expectations? Use scenes/characterization/dialogue from the film to give examples. 

The film Whale Rider is definitely a statement of empowerment for women and girls. Paikea challenges gender expectations at every step of the way in her journey to becoming the leader that her tribe had waited for. Paikea has all the qualities and characteristics that Koro is looking for in a leader, but she is overlooked and looked down on because of her gender. In the school Koro set up for first-born boys, he tells them: “You will be tested for your strength, your courage, your intelligence and your leadership.” (Caro, 2002) Paikea possesses all of these qualities but is forced to sit on the sidelines while he teaches the boys. She outshines every time, beating the taiaha out of Hemi’s hand, and finding Koro’s whale tooth. For beating Hemi she is reprimanded because Koro sees her as a threat to tradition and the old ways. It is not until later, however, when Nanny Flowers returns the whale tooth that Paikea had found that Koro finally realizes how blind and ignorant he had been. This was the eye-opener for him, because he had told the boys: “If you have the tooth of a whale, you must have the jaw of a whale to yield it.” (Caro, 2002) He has at this point finally realized his erroneous ways and felt shame for how he had treated Paikea. This is empowering to women because it shows that old traditions and gender stereotypes can be turned around in your favour if you work hard and are determined to do so.

3. How is Whale Rider an example of “counter-cinema” and the “female gaze”? Use the 1990’s Lecture notes in Week 11 Module to help with this answer and the “Hollywood” article by Kord and Krimmer in the course package. 

The article by Kord and Krimmer defines counter-cinema as: “Cinema that stands in opposition to the dominant forms of Hollywood.” (Kord, 2005) Whale Rider is an example of counter-cinema because it is unlike what most other Hollywood films were like at the time. It was unlike the films about women as prostitutes and pornstars, for example Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential or Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. (Kord, 2005) Films had bigger budgets and more special effects starring popular actors and actresses that guaranteed the audience to like it, and thus guaranteed ticket sales. There was more pressure to put out these films and the cost was much higher, as a result “true character development, interesting characters, credible plots, and intelligent story-telling often suffered in the process.” (Dirks, 2013) Whale Rider had a small budget, was directed by a female, and the main actress who was nominated for an Oscar had had no previous training as an actress and was found at a school. (Whale Rider 2002, n.d.) Whale Rider is an example of the female gaze because it is not crafted towards a strictly male audience. The film is aimed towards everyone, it is a story of a strong female character, a story in which male characters show emotion, are allowed to be upset but are forgiven because they are human, not because they are male. The heroine is allowed to succeed without being punished, and admired by her tribe because she is strong and a true leader, no matter that she is a girl.


Caro, N. (Director). (2002). Whale Rider [Motion Picture].

Dirks, T. (2013). 1990’s Film History. Retrieved from FilmSite: http://www.filmsite.org/90sintro.html

Hossain, R. (2011, June 13). Female Directors, Female Gaze: The search for femal subjectivity in film. Retrieved from Rubaiyat Hossain: http://rubaiyat-hossain.com/2011/06/13/265/

Kord, S. &. (2005). Hollywood. In E. K. Susanne Kord, Hollywood Divas, Indie Queens, & TV Heroines (pp. 1-33). Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Whale Rider 2002. (n.d.). Retrieved from IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0298228/

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