Director: Becs Arahanga, Amberley Jo Aumua, Matasila Freshwater, Dianna Fuemana, Miria George, Ofa Guttenbeil, Marina McCartney, Nicole Whippy, Sharon Whippy
Where to Watch: Tubi
Why It Made The List:
“Vai” is a portmanteau film with its eight parts each directed by eight different Pacific Islander women. I’m not sure any other explanation to why I chose this film is needed, but in case you needed more convincing, “Vai” currently holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Vai” follows its titular character from childhood to old age. When she is a child, Vai’s mother wants to move the family to New Zealand. However, Vai is reluctant to move and leave her family, home, and culture. So instead, Vai lives with her grandmother and remains on the island.
As we continue through Vai’s life, we uncover various traditions and living conditions of the Islands. We see Vai and her brother collecting fresh water, Vai fishing and imaging a conversation with her mother, Vai going to school in Auckland and providing for her family, Vai standing up to commercialization on the island, Vai agreeing to complete a ritual ceremony, Vai helping her own granddaughter with her own ceremony, and finally Vai completing a ceremony for her newest great granddaughter.
While watching Vai navigate her life and all its customs and struggles and messiness and beauty, we begin to realize that Vai could be any woman who loves her culture so passionately. Who would fight to preserve her home and defend her family. A woman who is so unashamedly female and Pasifika and Vai.
Each stage of Vai’s life is directed by a Pacific Islander woman although it seems the camera crew remains the same throughout the movie. Each section is filmed as a well-coordinated oner. At first, I thought that this was merely for show. Why would they not cut out the fat of this story to make it a little faster paced? But life is not an edited down version for easy consumption. In life, we don’t get to cut out the mundane or ugly parts. We see every little bit of every moment.
My favorite moments in both story and camera, were Vai at university and her heading to the protest on the island. I felt both of these stories were the climax of Vai becoming her own woman and voice. I feel I say this every year, but the Pacific Islander stories are still so sparse and not widely known. So to see Vai find her voice and use it was empowering. Through these scenes, “Vai” helped provide a voice to women of color.
This film was beautifully made and had a beautiful story to tell. While I will admit that I fell asleep the first time around, it hooked me enough to go back and watch the rest of the movie. I hope people will give this film a watch and learn more about the Samoan and Pacific Islander cultures in the process.
Small Business Shout Out:
Today's small business feature is Ni Di Mama! Ni Di Mama sells clothes and accessories that pay homage to Asian references, traits, and community. According to their site, Ni Di Mama ("Your Mom") is a "nod to the shared experience of growing up struggling to navigate between a Chinese and western culture." Shop their cute stuff (like the spring onion crew neck) here!
Reminder! I am matching donations for every like on this post and on Instagram. This year, we will be donating to CAPE - Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment.
If You Liked This, You Might Like:
Boy on Vudu (NB: I have not seen this film)
For My Father’s Kingdom on Apple TV (NB: I have not seen this film)
Cousins on Netflix (NB: I have not seen this film)