"In Depth" Contents:
On the Disc
Picture to Download
Liner Notes by Nelson George
Related Web Sites
- Commentary by Director Lee Tamahori
- The original theatrical trailer directed by Tamahori
- The trailer created by American distributor, New Line Cinema
- Behind-the-scenes video
- A short chapter on tattoo (moko) as it appears in the film
Download this 148K image from the film here.
The global problem of domestic violence destroys families and, in a broader context,
locks entire societies into a pathology of pain, distrust, and self-hate. When the basic
building blocks of any society--the bonds between mother, father, children--are so grossly
violated, that illness seeps into the lives of their neighbors, schoolmates, and co-workers;
kinship and humanity become mere mockery.
Once Were Warriors uses the tortured history of wife abuse in the Heke family--
a family of working class Maoris in New Zealand--to speak a universal truth about the dark
web of despair such intrafamily violence can spin.
In a poor suburb of Auckland, Jake and Beth Heke live a life defined by druken parties, unstable friendships,
and confrontations with authorities. Jake, a complex man with a racals's charm, is weighted down by a
quick temper, alchoholism, and an evil streak of male entitlement. Beth's beauty has been
scarred by broken dreams and Jake's beefy fists. Yet her inner strength and desire to save her
family make her the solid center around which Warriors' story of tragedy and hope is
The Hekes have two small children, Polly and Huata, and a beautiful adolescent daughter named Grace.
Their callow teenaged son Boogie is about to be shipped to reform school by juvenile court.
Brooding Nig, the Heke's oldest offspring, is heavily tattooed as part of a local gang's
From these threads, the Heke's tale (based on Alan Duff's novel) is unflinchingly woven
by screenwriter Riwia Brown. Director Lee Tamahori, well-known in his native New Zealand
for his innovative commercials, doesn't turn his camera away from the uncomfortable moments.
Though shot with bronze filters that compliment the actor's skin tones, the scenes of Jake's
abuse of Beth will make the most hardened action movie fan flinch. No false heroism, no impersonal
brutality--we care deeply for all the Hekes, even Jake; all their humiliations sting our eyes and
Warriors, the highest grossing film of all time in New Zealand, strikes some as "Maoris N the
Hood." It shares, after all, the lower-class ethnic setting, a theme of male bonding, and an
examination of dysfunctional families. But none of the '90s wave of African-American films--
with the exception of Leslie Harris' Just Another Girl on the IRT--has given us such
compelling women characters. Beth, played with ferocious dignity by Rena Owen, and Grace, a
dreamy, too-sensitive-for-this-world adolescent played with heartbreaking vulnerability by
Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell, give Warriors its warmth and spiritual core.
By film's end, the Heke's--all save poor deluded Jake--have begun the process of rescuing
themselves from the violence around them. By tapping into the rich legacy of nobility, pride,
and love that is their Maori birthright, Beth and her children gain a sense of spiritual rebirth.
Once Were Warriors is harsh and harrowing--but, ultimately hopeful about the human
spirit's capacity for renewal.
Nelson George is the author of Blackface: African Americans in the
Movies (Harper Collins).
Blain Nelson's Abuse
Blain Nelson has created a site that is one of the best
resources for exploring Domestic Violence (DV) on the internet. He
courageously relates his own story, referring himself as a "recovering
spouse abuser," and states that he created his site so there would be
" something available for net folks to look at to get some information
they could use in their lives to help identify and stop the abuse
which is so terrifyingly and silently common in our communities and
homes throughout the world." He also includes a list of pointers to
other DV websites with a comprehensive catalog of what they include.
Rated in Point Communications' Top 5% web sites.
On the Maori
Part of the New Zealand government's web
site, the "Kimi Kupu Hou Lexical Database" is part of the Department
of Internal Affairs page. On this site entering an English term
returns its Maori equivalent (when the word exists).
Maori at Lonely Planet
This page tells the history of the
Maori people and includes downloadable pictures of carved war