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M9: Miriama Smith advocates for positive change for Māori actors

Natasha Hill

Miriama Smith: 'There was this sense that we were being boxed into an idea of being Māori.'

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Actor Miriama Smith hopes to forge new paths for aspiring actors at the second instalment of M9 Aotearoa this year.

M9 will be held at Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre on November 16. It features nine renowned Māori actors sharing stories to advocate for positive change for Māori within the acting space. It will be a two-hour event of powerful Māori voices who have come together for a very special evening, presenting nine very different stories chosen to inspire, empower and entertain.

Smith (Te Arawa) is known for her acting roles in the 2004 season of Power Rangers, Xena: Warrior Princess and Shortland Street.

The night will bring lots of discussion around a positive shift of Māori within the acting space, she said.

“We are being agents and we are getting our own autonomy in terms of not only acting but directing, writing our stories, telling our stories, and producing our stories. We are all agents of change.

“I think it’s really important that we still maintain our individual personality within that as people and as performers.”

Miriama Smith, Cohen Holloway, Cian Elyse White and Hariata Moriarty at Te Waiiti Marae in a scene from the film Cousins.

Early in her career, Smith took inspiration from “Māori in all spaces that were seen out there in big spaces” including journalists, professors, scientists and linguists.

During this time she remembers “there was this sense that we were being boxed into an idea of being Maori”.

Māori who identified outside this box felt “quite restricted”, whether in aspects of religion, spirituality or sexuality.

M9 is at the Kiri Te Kanawa Centre, November 16.

She said actors can have “imposter syndrome” because the industry can be quite competitive.

Questions like “Am I good enough? Am I Māori enough? Where do I stand in my Māoritanga, in my professional life? Am I skilled enough as an actor?” are some of the real worries actors face, she said.

It doesn’t matter what stage of your career you are at: “Finding where you stand in the world and just kind of really either making decisions that work for you … can be very draining.”

It is important to lean on those around you, as it can feel lonely at times, Smith said.

“We forget that they’re actually a real person with fears and challenges and triumphs and normal things that everyone else is facing.”

Talking about oneself on stage can be an unnerving experience for the actor, Smith said.

Adding that actors have the ability to hide behind a character or wardrobe.

“To strip that bare can feel quite naked up there,” Smith said.

On the night she hopes others can come away inspired from her kōrero, with “a few toolkits” to get them on the way to a sustainable acting career.

Smith said if she could give her younger self one piece of advice, it would be to always ask questions.

Miriama Smith is one of nine speakers at M9 on November 16. Photo / Supplied

“I would probably ask more questions to more people because there’s lots of people in the industry that want to help you.

“Never be too proud to ask for help and never be too stubborn to receive it.”

Smith looks forward to reconnecting with her fellow acting friends and hearing their take on positive change within the acting industry.

The announced lineup for the event is Smith, Ben Mitchell (Tainui, Ngaati Maahanga), Miriama McDowell (Ngāti Hine), Kura Forrester (Ngāti Porou), Te Kohe Tuhaka (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou) and Ngahuia Piripi (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi).

M9 takes place on November 16 from 8.30pm at the Aotea Centre, Auckland. Tickets are available now at Ticketmaster.

Hero image: Miriama Smith has been inspired throughout her life by Māori "that were seen out there in big spaces”. Photo / Supplied

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