Monday, June 15, 2015
White Lies 
EnFilm.com (V. Sánchez) review*
Flicks.co.nz (J. Croot) review
Screen-space.com (S. Foster) review
White Lies  (screenplay and directed by Dana Rotberg, based on the novella "Medicine Woman" [Amzn] by New Zealand Maori author Witi Ihimaera [wikip] [GR] [Amzn]) is one of two films offerings about the phenomenon of "Colorism" (people-of-color seeking to whiten their skin to improve their station in life) to play at 2015 (13th annual) Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival organized by ArtMattan and hosted by Facets Multimedia in Chicago.
The film which was New Zealand's submission to the 2014 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film is set in New Zealand of the 1920s, and is anchored by a Maori medicine-woman named Paraiti (played by Maori singer/actress Whirimako Black [wikip] [IMDb]).
In the course of the tale, Paraiti gets called to a wealthy New Zealander's house by a Maori maid named Maraea (played by Rachel House) to help the young/fashionable (white) lady of the house Rebecca (played by Antonia Prebble) get herself out a rather problematic situation: With her wealthy New Zealander businessman of a husband "away in Europe on business," she's gotten herself pregnant ... and was in need of, well, "getting rid of it" (the baby) that is, she was in need of an abortion. When Rachel meets Paraiti she explains to her that Maraea had told her that as a "medicine-woman" Paraiti would have some expertise in that department.
Telling her in no uncertain terms that she was misinformed, the appalled Paraiti tells her NO. Yet events conspire (I'm not going to go into them here) to have the medicine woman re-evaluate her initial refusal. And so a few days later Paraiti comes back to the manor house of the rich young woman to tell her that she's changed her mind. Since this came as something of a surprise to the young woman and her maid, Paraiti is asked why, and she answers that she had own reasons for doing so and that these reasons involved in some way "restorative justice." This didn't really answer Rebecca's / Maraea's question. But they needed her help and so they let it go ...
One thing that Paraiti does tell the two was that the traditional (abortative) process "would take some time" (at least a week). The two wanted the process to go faster, because they feared that the husband was going to return at any time. But Paraiti was adamant that there was no other way that she could safely do the procedure. Va bene ...
Well, in the course of the week that follows ... much happens. It turns out that none of the three women involved in the story were telling (each other) the truth, hence one of the meanings of the title "White Lies." However, at least one of the lies involving the young, fashionable white lady Rebecca was that she wasn't white at all :-) ... Instead, Maraea has been bleaching her skin pretty much her whole life. Why? To improve her social status / opportunities ... like "landing a rich white guy (who then turned out to never be around). One also better understands then Maraea's / Rebecca's insistence on hiding/destroying Rebecca's pregnancy: If one's gone to ALL THAT TROUBLE to make oneself / someone "white," OMG to "have an illegitimate child at the end of it all" would make ALL THAT EFFORT (and ALL THAT SUFFERING) "a waste of time."
But of course Paraiti had her own secret about "traditional abortative medicine" (I'm not going to say, but I do feel VERY SECURE HERE about reviewing this film even though I'm a Catholic priest. The secret's quite interesting and even somewhat amusing ;-).
Anyway, much plays out in the story ... and certainly its main point is that TRADITIONAL MORALITY (in ANY culture) counsels EVERYONE to be simply be honest about who one is, what one's done, and (for the most part) what one's going to do.
A fascinating and often tragic story.
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