Were you looking for a film about the conflict between New Zealand’s native Māori people and white colonialists in the 1920s through a deeply female point of view? Well, White Lies (2013) is the film you want, and it’s a meditative, powerful, thoughtful look at what different women go through under the constraints of racism, class, and sexism.
I actually don’t want to say much about the plot because I went in knowing not much, and I felt that the story unfolded beautifully and was completely engaging as-is. There’s a pregnancy / birth, but it’s probably less graphic than Call the Midwife in that respect, while entirely different in tone. White Lies is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Kanopy, but as always, check your own sources.
The story is set in the 1920s, and while there’s no title card stating the date, the period is introduced obliquely through things like showing Charlie Chaplin posters at a movie theater in the background and, of course, the costumes. See? When the exact date isn’t important, you don’t have to title-card it.
The costumes are minimal and reflect each character’s circumstances. Paraiti (Whirimako Black) is a medicine woman, but she has to work stealthily because the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907 outlawed traditional Māori healing practices. Her clothes are practical and dark, she blends in to her surroundings in the wild villages, though she stands out in town. She carries a woven basket and wears a belt made of natural materials.
In contrast is Maraea (Rachel House), who is also Māori and around the same age as Paraiti, but Maraea lives in town and works as a housekeeper. She’s fastidiously buttoned up in a dark grey uniform with crisp white collar, cuffs, and gloves.
Finally, there’s Rebecca (Antonia Prebble), who employs Maraea. Rebecca lives in a big house with her Very Important Husband who’s away on Very Important Business. The house has perfectly Art Deco furnishings, and Rebecca’s hair, makeup, and wardrobe are all fashionably 1920s, although nothing too fancy for reasons that will become apparent.
At the end of the film, Rebecca has one fancy dress for an important scene.
Will you be looking for White Lies?