Ahikāroa, the bilingual drama series which started its fourth season on Māori Television last week, is showing not only how the Māori television sector can build capacity through training — but also what it looks like when there’s a real commitment to giving rangatahi a voice. As Quinton Hita writes here.
There are lots of things I like about Ahikāroa. I was part of the creation, and have been an executive producer since it started — so, yes, I’m biased. That out of the way, the two things I like the most are its impact as a training programme, and its commitment to a Māori youth voice.
Let’s start with training. For as long as I can remember, I’ve bemoaned the state of the Māori television sector, with its competitive funding model, cut wholesale from a Pākehā television cloth. Never made sense to me, still doesn’t.
The mentality behind that structure is that the best idea wins. That’s cool, but it doesn’t build capacity in the industry.
To exaggerate for effect — but it’s not really an exaggeration — you can make good shows for 10 years, build up your business, and then somebody comes along with a “fresh” idea, which just happens to coincide with the regular regime and staff changes in Māori broadcasting sectors — and, boom! Ten years up in smoke.
Capacity gone, institutional knowledge gone.
In an industry notorious for its instability, lack of funding, relatively low pay, massive dearth of production staff with tikanga and reo skills, and lack of capacity — honestly, wtf? In those circumstances, mimicking a Pākehā model founded on commercial imperatives is crazy.
My straight up view of Māori television progress over the 30 years I’ve been in the industry is one step forward, one step back.
I’ve been blessed in recent years to become active in other sectors: kura kaupapa governance, whare wānanga governance, and so on. And where I see the most success, and the most progress, is in those areas where our disadvantages are offset by an understanding of the unique challenges for Māori organisations, and a funding structure that supports that.
In those spaces, you don’t have to have the best idea, year in, year out, to ensure your survival. You don’t have to compete to the degree where, if you aren’t successful, you have to shut your doors for a year, or maybe forever.
So. I’ve been arguing for over a decade that a structure that builds in long-term support is the best way for the sector to make progress. Ahikāroa, more through luck than design, in my opinion, has proven that.
The number of directors, writers, and production staff who we’ve been able to help develop and support, or who’ve just been given an opportunity to practise their gifts in a robust operational environment, is staggering. And I have no doubt that the wider sector has benefited from that.
Ten years ago, a well-known exec challenged me on this point. This exec pointed out that the trade-off for giving long-term contracts in order to grow that capacity would be that only a handful of companies would be supported. This exec then asked me the pointed question: “What if your company isn’t one of the chosen few?”
That’s an easy one to answer. I’m not into one-step-forward, one-step-back. Let’s have a bit of tough love and build the capacity first. Doesn’t worry me who does it. On that score, even though Ahikāroa, like the rest of us, is still operating on a hand to mouth basis, in terms of training, Ahikāroa is smashing it out of the park.
As a coda to this section, I was shocked to see the piece written in the last few months by Leonie Hayden, where she laid bare some of the shortfalls of the sector. I wasn’t shocked by the content, I was shocked that somebody outside the industry had joined the dots. When I retire, I’m going to write the second half to that piece.
The second thing I like, no, LOVE, about Ahikāroa, is that the commitment to giving “rangatahi” a voice has always been solid. I don’t know how it happened, but all the planets aligned five years ago, and we got committed buy-in from all the stakeholders to support that voice. Big mihi to TMP and Māori Television who backed it at the start.
Let’s be honest, backing rangatahi can be risky. I don’t understand that world. I’m reminded of that every day with three teenagers in the house. Watch a few episodes, and people like myself who come from a conservative background both in television and Māori culture, scratch our heads and think: “How the hell did this ever get supported?”
Well, I think it’s a massive credit to all its supporters. I can’t watch the show without cringing at the risque subject matter. Auē. But if they made the show based on my sensibilities, there would be ZERO rangatahi watching it.
I know, you could fill a book with all the arguments about where to draw the line. I’ve heard them all, in the English world, and in the Māori world. It’s risky. But I love that Ahikāroa has taken the risk, has walked that fine line, and is proving that it can be done.
There is of course “a” line. It moves around a bit, but we somehow eventually find it because we follow a process that I think has integrity for allowing that rangatahi “voice” to come out.
Of course, we interrogate everything. But that interrogation starts with, is always informed by, and ends with, the younger voices.
That’s evident in everything from the clothing design, to the promotional photography, to talent on screen. It’s not BS. It really is a young production to work on. Which means it’s more than just paying lip service to the audience.
When my traditional upbringing kicks in, I’ll check out the comments on the Facebook page, and be reminded again that this has made a real connection with its young, mostly Māori, audience. More power to it.
I’ve had many tricky moments. The most recent and vivid one stopped me in my tracks. It was a character throwing a high heel at a tohunga, during a fight, and screaming: “Take that bitch!”
OMG. I can’t sign off on that. Hang on. Take a look at many of our traditional stories, handed down from aeons ago. There were evil tohunga. They used whatever weapons were at hand. And they often had some choice words to share during the battle.
So, I’ve come to love supporting that rangatahi voice, and that process. Those are two things I like about Ahikāroa.
Quinton Hita is the owner and CEO of Kura Productions (Mt Zion, Ahikāroa, Maui’s Hook, Kōwhao Rau, Pūkoro). He sits on a number of language, education, whānau and broadcasting boards, and is also the Taumata Whakahaere of the Taitokerau whare wānanga, Tauranga Kōtuku Rerenga Tahi. A longtime stalwart of the Ngāpuhi dialect, Quinton is also behind the whānau-focused language resource, Māori in a Minute.
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