Ahh! A thriving New Zealand where the economic boom is powered by colonial superiority, racism and Pacific Island labour. Fight the power with The Panthers this week. Patron shoutout to Emele and the team at Studio Kiin!


Once a Panther podcast by Stuff NZ
Polynesian Panther documentary by Nevak ‘Ilohahia 
Nua Finau interview on The Provise Project
History on The Black Panther Party by One Mic Black History


Creators: Halaifonua Finau, Tom Hern
Directors: Miki Magasiva, Mario Faumui, Chris Graham, Tom Hern, Vea Mafile’o
Writers: Halaifonua Finau, Tom Hern, Tom Dreaver, James Napier Robertson, Suli Moa, Fiona Samuel
Executive producers: Halaifonua Finau, Tom Hern
Released: August 2021
Production Company: Four Knights Film
Network: TVNZ/Paramount AUS
Cast: Dimitrius Schuster-Koloamatangi, Lealani Siaosi, Roy Billing

Breakdown and Analysis

  • History of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand during the 1970s is new to the For Your Reference household. Even for KT, despite having Tongan family in New Zealand during this time as well as present day.
  • We overall enjoyed the series but there were aspects that didn’t feel as strong, particularly the world building and the focus solely on Will.
  • We are at an exciting time globally where we are witnessing the interest in Indigenous stories but also being penned by Indigenous creatives. We see this in Reservation Dogs, Rutherford Falls, Head High, Boy & Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Also Total Control, Redfern Now & Mystery Road. There is such a richness of Indigenous storytelling.
  • Unfortunately we are also in the venn diagram of growing quality of TV/cinema. It’s not the fault of the show, however, we are consumed in a tapestry where there are decades of, in particular, Black American filmmaking. So we’ve been satiated with stories of very specific pain but at the same time we don’t know what Maori and Pacific Islander pain looks like. So we are in a world where we expect quality production but also don’t have a lot of peripheral context of what is happening. We also didn’t know anything about Fred Hampton but were still familiar with the narrative and context in which he was situated to take us through Judas and the Black Messiah.
  • We discuss how Muldoon’s speech being cut in Town Hall did not happen and was inspired by The Panthers cutting the Queen’s mic during Waitangi. KT believes we are ready for complexity and would have enjoyed the follow through with being afforded more dimension.
  • We also explore the Panthers blowing off the doors of Central Police Station with dynamite and it being a decision not to include in the show. Oti observes, when you’re fighting oppression you have to do everything in your power to get noticed to show that whatever descent being caused is a result of the injustices being faced. If this is seen as terrorism than we are rewriting history. Any colonial warriors that are fighting against oppression would be dubbed terrorist because they are going against the powers at the time, which Oti does not agree.
  • Without a full portrayal of the missing context we had, it didn’t feel as though the uprising matched the brutality. KT is not saying give us 12 Years a Slave but we needed to understand what was happening at the time. We needed a history, educational moment to fill in these gaps. We both agree that it fell short at times. We were hoping for more backstory especially with Will and also Ice. Classic world building.
  • Your understanding of who you are and your people, doesn’t happen in a neat little box. Especially if the history of your family, and the experiences and possible trauma isn’t being shared with you. You’re just seeing the by-products of alcoholism every weekend. In some ways, there were inklings but a lot of it was played by something light. KT recalls the badge of honour to be called and claim being an overstayer. KT’s mum would playfully talk about people dobbing people in for being overstayers. Which created a conflict within KT as the history is much more sobering. Trying to heal from something that isn’t talked about or acknowledged in the family.
  • Like all countries, New Zealand is not immune to it’s own issues. Homelessness on the rise as well as incarceration, suicide rates and child poverty.
  • KT provides some NZ history. 1950s-1960s there was a major industrial and economic market. Seeking labour from regional Maori and Pasifika. Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau arrive as New Zealand citizens, while Samoans and Tongans require approval. The government later overlooks this requirement as the economy booms. 1971 Polynesian Panther Party formed. While the UK looks to cut trade with New Zealand and join the European Common Market, an oil crisis sends energy prices sky-high. Kiwis lose jobs and blame Pasifika. Racism against Maori & Pacific Islanders were used for political advantages.
  • Polynesian Panther Party Achievements: Homework centres, free meal programs and food banks, prison visits (halfway house accommodation), legal aid book (eviction, incarceration, unequal pay/working conditions), sovereignty of Maori peoples (Sep 1975 Māori Land Hīkoi, 1976-1978 Bastion Point opposition and occupation)
  • Polynesian Panther Party Activism: Dawn Raids, PIG patrol, 1981 Springbok Tour.
  • Something that KT has become increasingly aware of: There is so much power in the connected effort to tear down Imperialism. KT references the Rainbow Coalition with Fred Hampton as well as the origins of Huey Newton meeting Bobby Seale at a Cuban Rally and later protesting the Vietnam war.
  • Inasmuch as Oti has qualms with Will, he found himself yearning for more. KT talks about the strength in lyricism but there were a lot of storylines that did not add to our understanding of the situation. She did not care for the love story and would have liked racist white people to have dimension.
  • KT notes that David Lange helped compile the Legal Aid Book but was not very present on the show. She points that he could have been the white person to follow. Muldoon was a caricature which is part of the problem. There are well meaning people but could also be racist. Two things can be true. When you’re in the real world, there’s so much complexity and nuance. Whether he was a caricature or whether he was the best person in the world, the system exists for him to thrive and decide if he wants to help others that don’t benefit from the system.
  • Oti was under the impression that Muldoon was impressed by Will initially. Kt picks up on this and perhaps he was a savvy politician and was waiting to see if there was value in keeping Will around.
  • We discuss the nuances in privilege even within the community. Will didn’t notice his privilege yet Oti points out that his skin colour means nothing when his brothers did not have the same opportunities. He also points out that we don’t get full coverage of The Panthers because of so much focus on Will.
  • Don’t rock the boat baby (the waves of culture and religion). Will raised good points when fighting with Mo but that’s the nature of the beast. However, it felt pointed and naive especially as his points were not for his brother. If Mo were to die in battle would Will still be beating his drum?
  • KT loves the way Melani’s arc was portrayed in the show. She had a role of leadership with the Panthers but when she got home she was the dutiful daughter and could barely whisper her worth and identity. Oti draws similarities with African culture. Once you get back home you are put in a box and you stay there because that’s the culture.
  • What you cling to in regards to your cultural identity is also what suffocates you in your pursuit for freedom.
  • Kudos to the show addressing abortion but hopes we can get to a point where we address this within Brown women specifically.
  • We come to our favourite theme of people being for themselves to the detriment of their own. Ice is content running his block and has accepted life the way it is. Oti compares Ice to Otto in Belly and wants them all to get in the bin. KT defends Ice in that it was easy for Will to advocate when he was afforded many luxuries. We agree that Officer Havili is gay but for a show that was about being revolutionary it felt very deliberate in not going all the way.

Unrelated but vital points

  • Viggo Mortensen in Green Book reference.
  • OG and Don Al G Rhythm’s Wonder Years reference.
  • KT brings present examples of Pacific Island labour being used for the jobs that Australians complained about not having. As if we’re supposed to be grateful for opportunities to be treated as sub-human. She has time, meet her in the DMs.
  • KT is not sure why but feels as though Pasifika hasn’t fully faced what we’ve been through to get to where we need to be to have roots outside of our Indigenous lands.
  • Oti Columbus Short makes a Stomp the Yard reference.
  • It is a safe space in the For Your Reference household but it is not comfortable. Because we are also a space of growth and there will be growing pains.