Written & Directed by Taika Waititi
Boy lives on the eastern coast of New Zealand in 1984. He lives on a small farm with his Nan, his brother, and cousins. He loves Michael Jackson and his absentee father. He hangs out with his pals Dallas and Dynasty while swooning after Chardonnay, a girl in his class. Then one day, when his Nan is out of town, his father returns and enlists Boy in helping him discover money he buried in a field years ago. Boy will spend some weeks getting to know his father better, imagining a life away from this place, and ultimately learning the reality behind his father and the fantasies he has constructed around the man.
New Zealand is a landscape that has been exploited by large Hollywood productions while its people have been left to be paid poorly. The change came in the form of The Hobbit law, actually named The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill, passed in 2010 (the same year of Boy’s release) and intended to limit the amount of unionizing actors can do on the set of films made in New Zealand. Warner Brothers’ production of The Hobbit was in grievous contradiction with standing union laws in the country, and they threatened to pull the rest of the series and make it in a more corporate-friendly Poland or Australia. The New Zealand government, having earned a considerable income from film production and related tourism, worked quickly to pass a law that crippled actors unions. The people protesting this law were framed as going up against the saintly Peter Jackson who had brought so much to New Zealand.
In early 2018, the newly seated government of New Zealand announced that the Hobbit law would not be repealed, but they would make some changes. Collective negotiations would be restored, and a working group of employees in both the artistic and technical parts of the industry would be formed to suggest changes. There is still hesitancy to give more power back to workers in New Zealand because James Cameron’s Avatar series, Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines, and other large Hollywood productions are set to pump money into NZ.
I bring all of this up because what I see very little in the conversations about the exploitation of New Zealand actors and crew people are the role of the Maori and how if any of this income is making its way to the native people of New Zealand. Filmmaker Waititi shared the map below on Twitter of how Maori land has been systematically stolen over the last 150 years.
He went on to describe New Zealand as “racist as fuck” going on to label prisons, the justice system, health care, schools, and wages as all stacked against the Maori people. Boy is such a profoundly Maori film in the lifestyle it depicts the distinct sense of humor conveyed on screen. It also has gone on to be the highest grossing New Zealand produced film of all-time. Waititi doesn’t shirk from presenting the poverty Maori live in and the way they hustle through life to keep their families afloat. One early scene introduces Aunty Gracey talks about her jobs as a bus driver, garbage collector, store owner, and other occupations that highlight a work ethic that drives her in spite of the unspoken colonial forces that are shrinking her people’s land.
Boy stands on its own as a hilarious coming of age comedy-drama that touches on nostalgia and fantasy. However, underneath the picture is an examination of a marginalized people who are continually in a losing battle against the annexation of their lands to an occupying power.