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New movie: ‘Too white for the marae, too brown for where he is’

'Alakihihifo Vailala

Julian Dennison on his new movie Uproar.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Growing up, award-winning actor Julian Dennison says he struggled with cultural identity.

Starring as Josh Waaka in the recently released movie Uproar, he says playing the role has meant something personal to him.

Dennison says “I grew up in a predominantly Pākeha school, so to be able to tell the story of a young man who’s too white for the marae but too brown for where he is was very special”.

The film is set in Dunedin 1981 and focuses on 17-year-old Josh Waaka’s self-identity journey during the Springbok tour protests.

Uproar had its Aotearoa New Zealand premiere last night in Newmarket.

Initially, Dennison wasn’t too aware of the 1981 Springbok tour events as he’s only 20 years old but shares a personal connection with the event.

‘Your maunga knows you’

“Both of my parents were at the Hamilton game. Mum was protesting. I think Dad was trying to watch the game”.

Dennison is of Māori (Ngāi Takoto) and Pākeha descent.

Despite still reconnecting with his Maori heritage, Dennison hopes the film can inspire other young Maori to embrace their culture.

“Be proud of who you are. I love what Rawiri Waititi says, ‘you don’t know your maunga but your maunga knows you. You don’t know your awa but your awa knows you… I don’t know a lot but I know where I come from’”.

Co-director and co-writer Hamish Bennett (Te Arawa, Patuharakeke, Ngāi Tahu) says they wanted to ensure the integrity and authenticity of the film with kaupapa Māori by involving mana whenua at every stage.

Bennett says “at every stage we had involvement from script stage to casting. The haka was choreographed and performed by mana whenua. At every stage, their involvement was incredibly important”.

Optimism and joy

Despite the film taking place in the 1980s, co-director Paul Middleditch says the film is still relevant to today’s society.

Middleditch says “what’s exciting for me is to see that in 2023, this is a film that’s right for now… There was so much for us to look at then to see what we are now”.

Middleditch says “Ultimately, I hope what you learn from this film is that there’s an optimism and a joy, particularly about when you find your voice”.

The film will be in cinemas from October 5.

Hero image: Julian Dennison in Uproar. Photo / NZ Film Commission site

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