Mon, Sep 13, 2021 11:33 AM

Film helps reclaim identity

Film maker Jade Jackson is set to premier her new film in Porirua. Photo: Todd Karehana.

Jonty Dine

The Dawn Raids were a shameful piece of New Zealand history but making a movie about them has helped Nelson film maker Jade Jackson feel a greater sense of pride in her Samoan heritage. Jonty Dine reports.

Growing up in Porirua, Jade Jackson was embarrassed to admit her Samoan heritage. Based on her family’s experiences in New Zealand, it is no wonder Jade felt this way.

Her grandmother was subjected to horrific racial abuse on the streets of Porirua. ‘Go back where you came from you black b**** you don’t belong here,’ was a common slur hurled her way.

“It wasn’t a powerful thing to walk around and say you’re Samoan, we were the butt of the joke growing up which gave me an insecurity about it,” says Jade.

However, now, as a proud and powerful Pasifika woman, Jade is embarking on a journey to reclaim her identity.

“I’ve done a lot of healing, I’ve been on a deep journey, and I am so proud to be Samoan now.”

After running a number of successful businesses, Jade set out on her dream of becoming a film director. It was after she graduated film school in 2019 that she first became aware of one of New Zealand's greatest shames, the Dawn Raids.

The Dawn Raids was a systemic racist attack on the Pacific people of Aotearoa. Beginning in the early 1970s, government forces launched early morning raids in the homes and workplaces of people who had overstayed their visas.

New Zealand had welcomed thousands of migrants from the Pacific Islands after the end of the second World War.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern formally apologised to the affected communities for what has been described as one of the most appalling acts of racial discrimination against Pasifika people in New Zealand's history.

Like many Kiwis, Jade was shocked to learn of the government sanctioned attacks.

“It was really painful for me to hear, and I think most of that pain was from the fact I didn’t know about my own culture’s history here in New Zealand. The more I looked into it the more I realised how traumatising these events really were.”

Jade soon learned she was not alone in not learning of the raids.

“When I started talking about it no one really knew.”

It became clear that Jade needed to bring the stories of those who lived through the raids to the screen.

"As soon as I found out, I got into action. "

Jade Jackson with actor Bioni Sio on set of her short film, Raids. Photo: Cassia Walton.
Jade Jackson with actor Bioni Sio on set of her short film, Raids. Photo: Cassia Walton.

She created a script titled Losa which then inspired another script for a short film called Raids. It follows the story of a Samoan father, Lupematasila, and his daughter Losa.

"What I wanted to show was the Pacific Island perspective on what a family might have gone through at the time, I want the audience to feel the pain, the shame, and all the things they felt. Invading your home and private space, there is an innocence that gets taken away in a moment like that."

Jade says her connection to the raids is based on inter-generational trauma. Her grandmother is still not comfortable talking about the dark chapter in her life.

"It is sad to know that trauma is obviously still too raw for her to talk about 50 years later. She went through it, but she was silent about it which meant my mum never got to learn about it and I lived 31 years not knowing this had happened to our people.”

Jade says she understands the silence following decades of discrimination but believes it needs to be part of the country's consciousness.

"Our people don’t like to see ourselves as oppressed, but we were and I think there is a sense of shame that comes with not being able to fight back."

She says it is important as a society to know about the Dawn Raids so we can better understand our Pacific communities.

"The oppression our people suffered in the seventies is not something that should be swept under the rug. The next step for me is to share our history and right some wrongs."

Jade attended the government apology in Auckland where the Prime Minister expressed the Government's sorrow, remorse and regret over the Raids from which she said members of our Pacific communities continue to suffer and carry the scars.

“I imagine the government feels embarrassed, I am glad we are moving forward now, but I do think it is just the first step."

Jade says there are so many pathways that need to be created now for Pacific communities to reclaim a heritage that was stolen.

"We need to be conscious about what the right thing to do is and how we come together and make this right."

Jade moved to Richmond with her partner four months ago as both were looking to leave the busy city life behind them.

The couple owns film production company Red Rock Films and they are set to premier their new film in Porirua.

"It's pretty exciting to see it coming together."

Jade struggled to find funding for the film, however her crew was so passionate about the project they worked for free, with Jade paying them with food.

She says racism still runs deep in the veins throughout New Zealand.

"It just looks different now, it's not very in your face anymore but I definitely think there is an undertone that’s more silent now. I still hear it and the looks our community still receives, when we rise up or speak up there is a weird attitude of ‘why are they doing that?'"

Jade says the disparity in mental health, education, and pay among the pacific communities is a consequence of events such as the Dawn Raids.

"We need to realise we have helped create this and need to start closing those gaps."

She says her people are slowly healing from the past.

"We are reclaiming our identity and our place in New Zealand."

Written for Nelson Magazine