Inspired by the American Black Panther movement, a group of young, radical, and newly educated Pasifika teenagers unite to create a more organised, non-violent portrayal of their people during the tenure of Robert Muldoon’s Anti-islander National government.
The story is framed from the view of Will’ Ilolahia, Chairman of the Polynesian Panthers, and Robert Muldoon, Prime Minister and Leader of the National party. On a quest to fight against the demonisation of his people, Will finds inspiration in Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. The series displays many important political events during this period: Muldoon’s punch up with protesters, pro-choice activism, and the Dawn Raids.
The show follows Will at age 19, when he helped form the Polynesian Panthers. He’s a “prince” to his family, put under the pressure of becoming a doctor. He struggles to fight for his people, dismantling the image of his people as “just a bunch of darkies and coconuts”, and meeting the expectations of his family, who do not understand his pursuit. Robert Muldoon is the antithesis of Will. Muldoon uses racist rhetoric to feed into an anti-Islander ideology: a formula that hasn’t changed much for the National Party in 2021. Pacific people serve as scapegoats for a dwindling economy. Seeking to fulfil his promises of sending Islanders back to where they came from and making “New Zealand great again,” Muldoon implores to raid brown families for overstayers, despite South African and Dutch making up the majority of the overstaying population.
The show’s portrayal of the Dawn Raids is heart-breaking. You can’t help but be angry as an Island family crying at night after being forced to hide their Nana in a freezer outside, while police unlawfully raid their home at dawn. It’s traumatic, fucked up, and brings more attention to just how scarring this time was for Pacific peoples. It forces the audience to question if an apology is sufficient for what these families have been through and the inter-generational trauma created.
The soundtrack is phenomenal. The musical cast comprises modern Aotearoa creatives who do not tie themselves down to 70s music and switch between soul and activist hip-hop. Local artists Melodownz, Troy Kingi, Diggy Dupé, SWIDIT, and Ranuimarz, contribute to the soundtrack. The music composition serves as a musical tie from Aotearoa’s Māori/Pacific youth to the American Black Panthers and hip-hop. One of the things that bond Indigenous people is telling stories to the drum, and hip hop, in its essence, is telling your story to that drum. It is why hip hop has been accepted by so many, especially here in Aotearoa. Thanks to local Pacific excellence, the Panthers story is told to this drum.
Lyrics from a monologue (Episode 2)
A black panther, Same story / but different chapter
Coppers still knock us / Always putting us in handcuffs
A panther, Same song / but just a different stanza
A panther, calm, collected / but filled with anger
The Panthers showed they were on the right side of history, and after being crushed beneath the boot of authority, they continue to find ways to make their side heard. The series shows that Pacific Islanders and Māori have survived. It displays Pacific Islands excellence in every aspect of the show’s creation, from the soundtrack to the acting. It shows that we are more than just the manual labour we were brought here for. We are intelligent, creative, and proudly Pacific. Here’s hoping for a Ngā Tamatoa series.