In it's 25-year history, Shortland Street has been the single most consistent representation of Māori in our mainstream media.
The show's original producer Caterina De Nave noticed Australian soaps Neighbours and Home and Away had almost completely white casts, and wanted the cast of her show to be culturally diverse to reflect New Zealand. She also wanted to include strong female characters.
From Nurse Jacki Manu and Dr. Hone Ropata's Guatemalan escapades, to Rangi Heremaia nearly marrying his sister, to TK's bulging biceps, to Mo and the unlucky Hannah whānau, dozens of Māori have tackled roles on the show, and shown New Zealanders a range of Māori worldviews they may not have seen otherwise. Careers have been launched and fortunes made, in front of and behind the cameras.
But it hasn't always been smooth sailing. Although there have been Māori characters in the core cast at all times, different producers on the show over the years have had different understandings of the importance of including tikanga Māori and uniquely Māori perspectives.
In 2001 Lynette Crawford-Williams (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu) was hired as a writer on Shortland Street to support the story and dialogue team as the show introduced more Māori characters. The Hudson family—Joe, Te Hana, Tama and Mihi—became beloved characters and their working class family added balance to the show's portrayal of Māori, capturing a larger Māori audience as a result.
The imperfect likeness of Māori shown on Shortland Street shows the flexibility and reality of the language and the culture, reflecting a wide range of experiences and lifestyles. Throughout it all, a generation of young Māori have grown up seeing themselves reflected on our screens five nights a week.
We spoke to a handful of stars from the show's quarter century history about the ins and outs, ups and downs of being a Māori actor on New Zealand's most popular drama.
Article continues in issue 134