Whale Rider

by jzagala

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”).

The film is about a girl taking on the leadership role that was meant for males. In the beginning of the film Paikea states that “in every generation of my family, the first born son has carried his name and become the leader of our tribe… until now.” When her twin brother died, she was given the name of Paikea and she broke the stereotype of the guy being named Paikea. The whole film then follows her journey into being accepted by Koro as the new leader. Throughout the film we see things through her perspective. We are given the female gaze. The female voice is also present in this film because the director, Niki Caro is a female and from New Zealand (IMDB).  The director is a woman and she has lived through the experiences of being gender stereotyped and she knows how this feels. She has lived through this and thus has grasped the concept and feeling. She has the right standpoint and can give the right female voice. We have a female gaze both in the director and in the protagonist.

Not only is the character Paikea a counter stereotype, the movie itself is a counter stereotype of what a movie is “supposed” to be. In her article, Hossain talks about a vicious cycle that repeats itself. She talks about how social and cultural myths about women transmit themselves in the mainstream film. This then validates and creates a model for real women in the society to follow, maintaining the myth and the cycle continues. Kord and Krimmer also agree with this stating that “the female characters who illuminate screens of our movie houses not only reflect and perpetuate the status and options of women in today’s society, but also play an active part in creating new female role models.” By creating a movie with a female gaze, and with a character that shatters myths about women, Niki Caro has made a film that breaks out of this cycle and also creates a new female role model.

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.

From the day she was born, Paikea has challenged gender expectations. She was given the name Paikea, which was traditionally for boys. She was also interested in learning at the school that Koro had made to teach the young boys about being the leader. She also defeated her friend in taiaha. She is also able to retrieve the tooth whale which no other boy had taken. When her grandmother gave the tooth to Koro, he asks “who was it?” not expecting Paikea, a girl, was the one that retrieved the whale. In the end Koro accepts Paikea as their leader.  Throughout the film, Paikea has challenged gender expectations. Her journey and story is empowering to women and girls because it shows that you do not have to be bound by cultural and societal stereotypes and traditions.

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.

According to the lecture counter-cinema is “cinema that stands in opposition to the dominant forms of Hollywood.” In the previous question I talked about Rubaiyat Hossain’s theory on this visual cycle that is occurring and how Whale Rider has stepped out of this cycle. Movies created in this cycle are what Hollywood uses and by doing something out of the norm, Whale Rider is a counter cinema.

By having both a female director, and a female protagonist, Whale Rider could be said to have a female gaze. But by also watching the film, you could say that it is truly a movie with a female gaze. The story is told mostly through Paikea’s eyes, we go through her hardships and what she is feeling.


Caro, Niki (Director) Whale Rider. [Motion Picture]. New Zealand. South Pacific Pictures

Hossain, Rubaiyat. (2011) Female Directors, Female Gaze: The Search for Female Subjectivity in Film. Retrieved from http://rubaiyat-hossain.com/2011/06/13/265/

Kord S., & Krimmer E. (2005) From: Hollywood Divas, Indie Queens, and TV Heroines: Contemporary Screen Images of Women. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers