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Short takes

Not suitable under 8; parental guidance to 10 (themes, violence)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Whina
  • a review of Whina completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 10 November 2022.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 Not suitable due to themes and violence.
Children aged 8–10 Parental guidance recommended due to themes and violence.
Children over the age of 10 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Whina
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes
Length: 112 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

The first born child in a long line of chiefs, Whina (Miriama McDowell) was meant to be a boy – a boy who was allowed to have a voice; a boy who was able to fight for the rights of his downtrodden people – a boy who would be respected by the simple fact of his gender. But Whina was a girl – a girl who became educated; a girl with a voice that demanded she be heard; a girl who commanded the respect of her people; a girl who was willing to fight for what she believed in; a girl with foresight and courage and compassion – a girl who inspired a nation. A girl who would live to become a legend.

With vast areas of Maori land being taken over by white settlers, with British promises and treaties being repeatedly broken, more and more Maori families were being forced off their ancestral land and were facing lives of destitution and hopelessness. Whina understood what was happening to her people in ways that most couldn’t see and she had the wisdom and organisational skills to put measures in place to help secure and work the land of her ancestors. When tragic events forced Whina to flee from her community, she would eventually return, along with her second husband William (Vinnie Bennett), in an effort to help save the land and restore cultural pride to her community. When William dies trying to protect what they were working to build, Whina and her children find themselves homeless and back in the city where she soon learns just how precarious life can be for her people. She helps organise a relief association and, over the years, makes the government take notice of its Maori citizens. In her 80’s, suffering from crippling arthritis, Whina (Rena Owen) leads a march from one end of her country to Parliament at the other, inspiring countless people who join her along the way. This peaceful march gains international attention, eventually grants land rights back to the Maori people and ultimately changes the course of New Zealand history.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Racism; Poverty; Discrimination; Gender inequality; Injustice; Adultery; Death.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie, including:

  • Soldiers shove a Maori girl down and knock over racks of food in an attempt to locate Whina. When found, Whina prepares to attack with her gardening tool. She soon realises that it won’t do any good and is pinned to the ground with her arms behind her back by a soldier.
  • A man with a gun angrily enters the jail and says that he won’t be held responsible for anything he does if he finds Whina on his property again.
  • Some derogatory statements are made about Whina’s husband not being able to control her when she voices her opinion in a meeting. This causes another argument at home and her husband shouts at her, “Stop arguing with me woman!”
  • Whina’s entire community turns on her when they find out she is pregnant with another man’s baby and she and William must flee a violent mob while Whina’s sister tells her she must never return.
  • Whina teaches her son how to shoot bottles with a gun.
  • A building is purposely set on fire. William tries to rescue the Maori carvings inside but dies in Whina’s arms after attempting to enter the burning building.
  • An aggressive and angry mob tries to stop the peaceful protestors from continuing their march to Parliament House. There is some shoving and Whina is knocked to the ground.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

  • Nothing further noted.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Some children may be upset by the scene in which a terrified girl is running away from soldiers on horseback. The soldiers violently arrive in a Maori settlement, demanding Whina, knocking things over, searching the huts and roughly grabbing some of the girls before they find who they are after. Whina is pinned to the ground by one of the soldiers and is later shown crying behind bars in jail.
  • Whina’s first husband dies of tuberculosis. He staggers and collapses a couple of times whilst also coughing up blood.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

  • Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

  • None noted.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • A woman delivers a baby, though no nudity is shown.
  • Whina kisses William while still married to another man and shortly thereafter finds out she is pregnant with his child. No sex scene is shown but the act is implied.
  • A priest talks about some “disgusting” Maori wood carvings that depict the act of giving birth and that have genitals on display.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Men, and some women, frequently smoke throughout the film.
  • A group of young people on the march are caught drinking alcohol.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Damn.

In a nutshell

Whina is the heartfelt, biographical story of the life of Dame Whina Cooper. The film features fabulous performances set against the beautiful backdrop of striking New Zealand countryside and contains powerful messages about courage, determination and composure in the face of overwhelming obstacles and opposition. The film will be most enjoyed by older, mature audiences.

The main messages from this movie are that all choices have consequences; that if you want things to change you must be willing to make that change happen; that a woman can be just as powerful as a man; that great things are accomplished when you work together; and that the impossible can be achieved if you just persevere.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Courage
  • Determination
  • Persistence
  • Hope
  • Wisdom
  • Hard work.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children the importance of respecting other cultures and communities (and understanding the history), especially of the indigenous people of different regions as they have often endured unimaginable hardship and injustice.