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New Pacific film highlights realities faced by transgender youth

Grace Fiavaai

Film Inky Pinky Ponky based on real life of trans actress Amanaki Prescott-Faletau

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

It was a night for all the odd ones out and for those who find themselves on the fringe of society.

The audience definitely felt it. Many wore colourful scarves wrapped around necks below huge lashes and above sky-high stilettos. Others donned printed shirts and their long hair decorated with colourful sei flowers.

They were there for a special screening of the new film Inky Pinky Ponky - a Pacific love story based in New Zealand between a transgender high schooler and the captain of the First XV rugby team.

It is rare to see a queer Polynesian love story on our screens, says the creative mind behind the film and stage play, 34-year-old Amanaki Prescott-Faletau.

Prescott-Faletau grew up in New Zealand, but hails from Vava’u and Tongatapu in Tonga.

She identifies as a fakaleiti - Tongan for a transgender woman - and knows what it is like to be stared at rather than being understood.

Bringing the story to a movie audience was important to her personally, she says.

“It means that people who are transgender or who are sexually diverse can see themselves on screen and relate to a storyline that might be close to something they might have experienced themselves.”

‘Do you know what it is like to be stuck in a body that you cannot connect to?’

The film follows fakaleiti high schooler Lisa, played by Prescott-Faletau, and her struggle for acceptance among her peers and within her own family.

Prescott-Faletau, who wrote the script for both the play and the film, knows the character Lisa intimately.

Amanaki Prescott-Faletau (middle) pictured with friends, including those from the transgender community, at a special screening of new film Inky Pinky Ponky. Photo / Grace Fiavaai

Several of her lines speak to the theme of being the odd one out - as hinted by the name of the film, based on the children’s counting-out rhyme of the same name.

A particularly poignant moment in the film is when an emotionally-charged Lisa says: “Do you know what it is like to be stuck in a body that you cannot connect to? To be stuck in a body that does not feel like your own?”

Prescott-Faletau says she wanted to portray the difficulties and realities all fakaleiti or transgender people face daily- no matter their ethnicity or cultural background.

She gives credit to her former drama school classmate Leki Jackson-Bourke, who helped develop the script from stage to screen.

“He really is the backbone of the dialogue in the film.”

Jackson-Bourke acknowledged the challenges they also faced in the industry, by repeating a mantra passed on by their former drama tutor.

“If you can’t find work or you don’t get cast, make your own work,” he said.

This belief was behind Prescott-Faletau and Jackson-Bourke’s vision, to make their dream of turning the stage play into a movie come true.

Co-director Damon Fepulea’i said it was the right time for the film.

“People have a much healthier perspective on these issues - though fa’afafine or fakaleiti still face some difficulties. From a cultural perspective, it was intriguing.”

Ramon Te Wake, also a director, was delighted to be invited to the project, as it provided an opportunity to bring her own transgender identity and experiences to the film.

“It reinforces how important it is to be involved in the storytelling process; whether it be in front, behind, or everywhere in between.”

Inky Pinky Ponky is on MĀORI+2 and will be available on Tikilounge Production’s The Coconet TV July 20.

Hero Image: Lisa (played by Amanaki Prescott-Faletau) and Mose (John-Paul Foliaki) in new film Inky Pinky Ponky. Photo / Tikilounge Productions

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