The Female Gaze and The Whale Rider

  1. How is Paikea a female counter-stereotype? Use the “female gaze” theory to describe how the film and the character fit this model of the female perspective and female “voice”. Use the web link provided in Week 11 module on the Female Gaze (the Rubaiyat Hossain article, “Female Directors, Female Gaze”).

In Rubaiyat Hossain’s article she indicates that “there is no ‘one’ type of feminist films, rather there are films made by different women, representing diverse women, depicting ranges of experiences, feelings and senses women feel — elements that never make into the main/male stream currency of images and desire.” (Hossain 2011)

This is the female gaze, the portrayal of female experiences exposed by females. The female gaze allows for proper execution and “real” accounts for female experiences. If a male director were to attempt to tell a female story, that experience is more likely to be blurred by the male gaze. Hossain’s article reads “Men and women don’t live the same reality. They belong to different plains of power and are meant to see different versions of the same images as they both stare at one single object, or truth, or reality.”

Niki Caro, a female director, directs the movie Whale Rider. Through her directing this film the viewer is able to see the story of Paikea told through a female perspective. Caro portrays Paikea as a female counter stereotype, throughout the film her character resists fitting into any of the common Hollywood feminine stereotypes. Rather than being an obedient young girl who plays with dolls and other girls her age, we are shown a girl who is quite the opposite. Examples of these traits are mentioned below.

The film in its entirety is an example of the female perspective and the female voice, simply because it is a story about a girl’s struggle in world where men take precedence over women. Throughout this film we are able to experience these struggles alongside Paikea and we are able to view this particular world through the eyes of a young girl who has grown up there. As a result we are exposed to the issues that arise when being born a girl instead of a boy, as well as the difference in how a girl is expected to act versus how a boy of the same age is allowed to act.

Through this perspective the replaceability of women is also highlighted. Although not seen through Paikea’s eyes the viewer is shown how directly after Paikea’s mother dies during labour, Koro tells his son “What’s done is done…Come Home, start again.” Koro immediately encourages Porourangi to go and find a new wife so that he can try having a son again. Later in the film we see that when Porourangi comes and visits home, Koro’s first business is to try and set his son up with Paikea’s teacher in order to make another attempt at having a grandson. Through these actions we see through the female perspective the awareness that these men see women as replaceable.

2. How is Whale Rider a statement of empowerment for women and girls? How does Paikea challenge gendered expectations? Use scenes/characterization/dialogue from the film to give examples. 

Caro’s Whale Rider as a film is a statement of empowerment for women and girls through the actions of Paikea. As a character, this young aboriginal girl is able to challenge gender specific expectations. As I mentioned earlier, Paikea does not fall into the stereotypical Hollywood heroine mold. Instead she does her best to resist what is expected of her character in the film and what is expected of her by Hollywood.

This is most evident in the way she continually fights to be included amongst the boys her age and as a part of the community for that matter. It is not portrayed that she is trying to separate herself from the girls and through the female gaze of the film the viewer is able to see just that. We see this fight of Paikea in the following scenes:

  • when she refuses to not sit with the boys at the school
  • when she goes against Koro’s instruction and asks her uncle to teach her to fight with the staff
  • when she swims into the ocean and obtains Koro’s necklace when none of the boys could

Paikea is her own person and refuses to be told what do, she has her morals and she doesn’t think twice about voicing them. For example when she tries to sit with the boys at the school Koro tells her that she doesn’t belong there because she is a girl. After being yelled at and told several times to remove herself from that spot, she chooses to leave instead of sitting in a designated spot for girls. This showcases how strong her will is to push against the expectations of her as a girl.

In these scenes Paikea is able to display that women and girls are equally capable to men and that there should be no gender separation. In her actions she is able to show Koro and the community that it shouldn’t matter whether you are a girl or a boy, everyone should be included. This message is empowering for girls and women, because it emphasizes what feminism is all about: Equality.

 3. How is Whale Rider an example of “counter-cinema” and the “female gaze”? Use the 1990’s Lecture notes in Week 11 Module to help with this answer and the “Hollywood” article by Kord and Krimmer in the course package. 

Whale rider is an example of “counter-cinema” because it is a story told through the female gaze. In Kord and Krimmer’s article it states that in Hollywood “ the average blockbuster caters to a predominantly male audience.” (Kord, Krimmer 2005) Due to its use of the female gaze, whale rider does not assume the audience of the film is male. Instead it tells a story about a girl, through a feminine perspective.

Kord and Krimmer’s Hollywood reads “Hollywood must strive to present ‘mixed messages,’ that is ideologies flexible enough to appeal to a large audience ‘mostly’ consisting of ‘negotiating’ viewers.” (Kord, Krimmer 2005) According to the article, Stuart Hall’s theory of the negotiated reader means that the viewer will take what is presented to them and adapt to their own life situations.

In Goldberg’s article, “Where are the female directors?” when discussing female directors we learn that “the mostly male faculty there (NYU) still discourage female students in unconscious ways— largely because its members don’t relate to their work.” (Goldberg) This demonstrates that by not being able to provide a negotiated reading, films like Whale rider are considered counter-cinema.

Although there are sub-stories in Whale Rider that the male audience could potentially relate to. The fact that the main protagonist is a female and that the plot is about her journey as a young female in an aboriginal community does not allow enough leeway for a male viewer to be captured and relate to the film.

Works Cited

Hossain, R. (2011, June 13). Female Directors, Female Gaze. Retrieved from

IMDB Whale Rider. (2003, July 4). Retrieved from

Kord, S., & Krimmer, E. (2005). Hollywood Divas, Indie Queens & TV Heroines. Rowman and Littlefieldl Publishers.

Goldberg, M. (n.d.). Where Are The Female Directors?. Retrieved from http//

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