Film-makers accused of racism for keeping Maoris out of shot

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The Independent Culture

The makers of a Hollywood film about the Queen's tour of New Zealand in 1953-4 were accused of racism yesterday for excluding indigenous Maori people from crowd scenes.

The makers of a Hollywood film about the Queen's tour of New Zealand in 1953-4 were accused of racism yesterday for excluding indigenous Maori people from crowd scenes.

The film, Her Majesty, is being shot in New Zealand'scapital, Auckland, and the town of Cambridge. The producers have chosen 1,200 residents as extras for crowd scenes to be filmed in Cambridge on Sunday. None of them is Maori.

About 100 white people have changed their minds about appearing because of the decision not to include indigenous faces, according to the film's extras co-ordinator, Nicki de Reus. "We're definitely getting a lot of flak over it," he said.

The producer, Walter Coblenz, who produced the 1970s film about Watergate, All the President's Men, defended the move on the grounds of historical accuracy. "It was mainly pakeha [white New Zealanders] who turned out to cheer the Queen," he said. "The country was not as integrated then as it is today. The last thing we would want to do is to distort that part of history."

Mr Coblenz said that the film, about the friendship between a white girl and an elderly Maori woman, conveyed the message that intolerance could be overcome by fighting prejudice. "Having produced many socially responsible pictures, I'm very aware and concerned about people's feelings," he said.

A suggestion at one pre-production meeting that the lead Maori role be played by a prominent American white actress was quashed. The American writer and director of the film, Mark J Gordon, refused to direct if that happened.

Don Selwyn, a veteran Maori theatre director who was a script consultant for the film, said he was impressed with its "cultural integrity". He said: "It's got a lot of soul."

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