Whale Rider TIFF People's Choice Award

Hazel and Katniss and Harry and Starr Podcast: Whale Rider

The logo for Hazel & Katniss & Harry & Starr podcast: an orange box with the words written in white fontHazel & Katniss & Harry & Starr is a weekly Canadian podcast about young adult literature, their film and television adaptations, and everything in between. Now in its sixth season, the podcast—hosted by film critic Joe Lipsett and English professor Brenna Clarke-Gray—aims to highlight the cultural worth of young adult and middle-grade texts, with a focus on Canadian, Indigenous and minority creatives and stories.

Join us weekly for deep dives, as well as a round of YA BINGO.

Book 6, Chapter 26: Whale Rider

New Zealand month continues as we tackle our first Māori text with Witi Ihimaera’s 1987 novel and Niki Caro’s 2002 film adaptation.

The book is short but beautiful, particularly the unusual “framing” device from a whale’s perspective that provides an underlying religious element.


The film plays more like a standard coming-of-age tale made for a broad (read: white) audience. It’s still good, but the intention is surprisingly different considering the many 1-to-1 adaptation choices that were made.

Read on for more about this week’s episode from co-host Joe Lipsett:

As stated above, part of the podcast’s mission is to explore Indigenous texts, though recently the best we’ve done is unpack why the Twilight films have been such poor representation.

All this to say that Brenna and I were delighted to dig into Māori culture. Not only does Brenna update her land acknowledgement, we get to dig into how Ihimaera’s text uses the whale to ground his story in nature. In doing so, he also elevates the brief novel into something approaching myth.

Caro’s film isn’t bad, by any means, though it does feel compromised by the need to appease international audiences. Is that part of the reason it debuted to so much acclaim? Or is it simply that viewers fell in love with Keisha Castle-Hughes and the feel good storytelling?


We’d love to hear from listeners, particularly New Zealanders or anyone from the Māori community. -JL

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