May 18, 2019

Empowering representation of Pasifika women like never before

Nine Pasifika, female filmmakers are making waves with the release of Vai, a story of a woman’s life-time of empowerment through different Pacific cultures.   

In many Pacific cultures, ‘Vai’ means water. In the film, Vai is not only the central character, but also the main symbol that connects each Pacific nation across time and space.

A lucky few were able to get a first look at the highly anticipated film last month at the Māoriland Film Festival in Otaki, its New Zealand and southern hemisphere premiere.

Gabrielle Po-Ching, a Samoan and  Māori audience member, said that for the first time in her life, she saw herself being represented in film.

“It made me feel less alone when I could laugh at the highs and sympathise with the lows, because I have experienced them too.”

Other audience members, including Josephine Oloito’a, were moved to tears.

“We may be scattered across islands but we will always share the same ocean,” said Josephine.

The film consists of eight individual vignettes, following Vai at different parts of her life.

Filmed on different locations; Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kuki Arani (Cook Islands), Samoa, Niue and Aotearoa. Each actress playing a version of Vai was indigenous to that island.

Similarly, each director had an ancestral connection to the islands.

Sharon Whippy, one of the directors of the Fiji vignette, discussed the importance of representation in film and how the lack of Pasifika women on screen growing up made her feel different and ashamed of being one of few Pasifika girls at school.  

“I don’t know what it would have been like to see Vai when I was a young girl. I don’t know the impact her stories would have had on me as Pacific Islander, as Kai loma Fijian,” she said.

“I can only imagine it would have changed my perception of who I was and my place in the world. It would have made me proud instead of embarrassed of my culture.”

She hopes that more Pasifika women will feel stronger and prouder of their identities after seeing Vai.

“Our lives matter. Our stories are worth telling and in fact should be told.”

Vai is in cinemas now.