New Zealand has an important relationship with its Pacific Island neighbours, but it has not always been a good one. While New Zealand relied on labour from the Pacific to work the farms during World War 2 and then to assist in New Zealand’s growing industries in the 50s, 60s and 70s, until growing racist sentiment about immigrants supposedly taking New Zealander’ jobs led the government to allow the Police to conduct “Dawn Raids” of houses and communities where suspected overstayers were living. This was mainly in Pasifika communities even though Polynesians had made up only a third of overstayers, but more than 80% of all prosecutions for overstaying. While this period impacted the lives of many at the time, it is now often obscure bit of history for new generations.
Samoan filmmaker, Jade Jackson, is on a mission to change this and bring this story to the big screen with her short film Raids which premieres in August. Jade shares with us her reconnection with her culture, the leap into following her passion of filmmaking and the power of the medium to share the stories of Pasifika.
Can you let us know a bit about yourself and what you’ve been busy with lately?
I’ve very recently changed careers and have become a filmmaker. It came off the back of a bit of a personal life crisis. I feel like I had a very early midlife crisis. I was 29 and I felt that I was doing a lot of things in my life that weren’t very soulful. I don’t know why or how, but it just really started to affect me.
At the time I was learning a lot about mindset and spirituality, and I had been looking into my culture and seeing it differently for the first time in my life. That sent me onto this journey of wanting to do something more fulfilling with my life.
I’d been a business owner, I’d been working in the music industry in my twenties, and had always felt a little bit lost. Then when film came to me, it came from journaling and writing a random script that I just started writing about my life. I started looking at what I’d been through and I found these things around identity within my writing, that made me realise, ‘Oh, wow. I’ve been through a lot.’
The reason why I chose to do filmmaking and be a director was because when I made a list of things that I thought were my strengths, it just so happened that directing would probably be good for me. That’s why I chose directing.
I went to the New Zealand Film School in 2019 and graduated at the end of that year. As I was graduating, I was considering what kind of films I wanted to do and I was already on this path of soulfulness and wanting to be a better person and also contribute positively in some way too.
It wasn’t even about the world or New Zealand, to be honest, it was just about contributing positively to the Samoan community that I felt I had deserted. When I was thinking about things that I wanted to film and the stories I wanted to tell, obviously I went straight to the Samoan community. That’s when I stumbled across the Polynesian Panthers and the Dawn Raids. I had no idea about them and I didn’t know why I’d never learned about them in school. For some reason, it wasn’t a topic that was ever talked about among my friends and I’ve had a lot of different types of friends and people in my life.
It was quite hurtful to think that I’d never had this conversation about the Dawn Raids.
I was at a pub one night, drinking with some friends, and I was talking about film and what I was going to write about and the things that I was going to film, and a Samoan friend of mine was like, ‘Oh, you should totally talk about the Polynesian Panthers and the Dawn Raids.’
He gave me a book and I’d never seen it before and I was like, ‘What is this?’ Obviously after I went home, I read the book that night, and it was literally two days later that something came over me. I found a writer and I was like, ‘We need to write something about this.’ First of all, we wrote Losa, which was a feature film about the Polynesian Panthers and the Dawn Raids. Essentially, it’s a coming of age story about a Pasifika woman struggling with her identity in New Zealand.
Then we move forward and my naive self, very new to the industry, was thinking, ‘Yeah, we’ll make a feature first’. But I ended up taking it back and I made my first short film to see if I could make a film. I did, and it was really good, so we moved onto the second film.
That’s when I was like, ‘Cool, we need to talk about the Dawn Raids’. We took a small snippet of the feature and created its own short film and we called it Raids. I went to work and we did pre-production for six weeks and then we shot it.
Coincidently, there is now all the stuff around the Dawn Raids apology which is great. I know the Polynesian Panthers have been fighting for this for 50 years and I’ve only just joined this journey, so it’s great to see movement but I wasn’t expecting that.
What was the catalyst for you to make the jump from the music industry into filmmaking?
Essentially, a lot of it was because of who I was. I was a very different person and my role in that industry wasn’t creative. People were always telling me that I was this great business person and I listened to what people said and went along and did that. I didn’t realise that deep down the reason why I wanted to be around creative people and watch them and see their processes, was because I wanted to do that myself.
Back then I was very young and it was still exciting to learn about business and be a part of the music industry. But looking back, I wasn’t a happy person and when you’re not a happy person, you affect the people around you in all sorts of different ways. The blossoming of me really came out of that dark time of my twenties really, doing things that weren’t good for me or good for my soul. Essentially, I had to leave everything and everyone and be on my own to figure that out, to fight through and work out what was going to make me happy.
I did that for a year. I say to people, ‘Oh, I went through a dark night of the soul’, and I did. I skipped the country. I left a partner, I left businesses. I left everything and everyone, and I sat by myself for a year on a beach in Australia, and I found myself. I came back and I’m different, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m doing work that’s so fulfilling to me that I can’t even express to you in words what that is.
Why do you think that you were able to take that leap of faith?
That’s a tough question. Essentially, if I ask myself that question, I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m a person that gives my all, I give a hundred percent to whatever I’m doing and I generally burn myself out in exhaustion. And that’s exactly what I was doing a lot of the time in my twenties, before I learned about mindfulness.
To be honest, one day I woke up, and I turned to my partner at the time and I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore’, and he felt the same energy and he knew too.
That day, I packed up. I went to my Nana’s for a week before I was on a plane. I think I was sick of myself. I was sick of my thoughts. I was sick of my life and I was tired. I was so tired. I knew that if I didn’t change something, then I would repeat this cycle that I’ve seen in my parents and family members and I wanted something different for myself. I searched for it and now I think I’m on the track to finding that.
I imagine that there was a certain kudos to being involved in the music industry. Did you find that hard to let go of and to jump into this uncertainty?
100%, it was a process. Like I said, it took an entire year. I’m an Aries, so I’m impulsive anyway. I think the initial jump to go and do it wasn’t too scary for me but it was getting there. It was when I got there and realised what I had done. Things like that come into play like, ‘Whoa, what have I done? I’ve given up all of these things and all of these people’.
It took a lot of time. There was a huge process of crying and mourning, grieving this past self, this past life. I needed to go through this really intense process of becoming myself, becoming who I knew that I was. It wasn’t even finding anything, it was more like de-layering.
I had to strip away all of these things and people’s thoughts and people’s praises, to find this me. The de-layering process of that, it was difficult. I definitely wouldn’t tell anyone that it was easy to do. It was very difficult, it was a real struggle. But for me, it was really worth it.
You weren’t able to get Film Commission support for the short, but You got a crew and cast together to make it happen. What do you put that down to?
I do have a lot of drive. A lot of people say that about me. To be honest, I have no shame. When I need something or I’m investigating, doing research, I have no worries about emailing or picking up the phone and calling someone and being like, ‘Hi, I’m Jade, I’m a new filmmaker. Can you please help me? I need help!’ I am able to feel okay about putting myself out there and asking for help and from doing that, I’ve been able to tell people what I’m doing and tell people why I think it’s important.
A lot of people have given me feedback on why they wanted to help me out, other than they think it’s an important story to tell about the Dawn Raids. They tell me, ‘Your passion is so intoxicating, I want to work with you’. I’m feeling okay now with who I am and everything that I’ve done and am able to reach out to people and talk to people.
Even if I’ve called people and they haven’t wanted to help, they’ve at least given me some knowledge or some pinpoints that I really need to think about or work on to make myself better. I’ll take that too and I’m totally cool with that. Essentially, all I did to create this short film, Raids, and to get all of these amazing people that I got together was just pick up the phone and call them and say, ‘I’m doing this thing and it’s really important. Do you want to help?’
when you look back at the subject matter of what you’re working on, have your emotions turned to anger?
I think sadness is the biggest emotion that I feel about it, when I’m not feeling empowered that I’m doing something about it and talking about it. I don’t think I feel angry. I think I feel sad.
Why has it taken so long for an apology and why is it only now that we are really starting to address it?
Good question, I don’t know. I do know now that the Polynesian Panthers have been fighting for this for 50 years. But also I know that there are other indigenous cultures here in New Zealand that have been fighting for things even longer. I don’t know why this has taken so long, but I definitely feel that it’s a great thing that we are getting the apology. I think there’s a long road to go though, there’s so much to do and the apology is just the start.
I don’t feel like I can answer that. That’s out of my hands. I think that’s out of our community’s hands and I think the answer to that lies in the oppressors and the government that has created this.
You mentioned that the apology is only just a start. what else would you like to see happen?
I think there definitely needs to be more pathways in place for education. I really take my hat off to the Polynesian Panthers, who, I’m sure with very little funding, have created things like Educate to Liberate, which I think is amazing. But like I said, I didn’t learn this in school. I talked to my auntie the other day, who also said that even she didn’t learn about the Dawn Raids. So we’re talking two generations now that have gone through that have no idea.
I definitely think we need compensation. The Pasifika community has suffered, not just in terms of generational trauma that we’ve gone through within our own families and communities by events like the Dawn Raids, but it’s pushed us back a little bit with the inciting systemic racism through these events as well, and how that has played into the society as a whole, such as pay gaps for Pasifika and education gaps.
The non-understanding of indigenous people in this country really is concerning, considering we’ve been here for a long time and we’ve all been creating together. I think our arts and storytelling definitely need a lot of support. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. We’ve got a lot of educating to do here in New Zealand.
Can you talk a little bit about how the pay gap and the systemic racism actually plays out in the workplace and society?
From my own perspective, I can say that events like the Dawn Raids have triggered the ongoing systemic racism that we have here. I think from that, there are things that have happened on both sides of the problem.
On one side you’ve got a community, indigenous people, that has been silenced. There’s this idea that things like the Dawn Raids have taught these communities and people that when you speak up for yourself, there is a punishment. So, although there have been amazing people, like the Polynesian Panthers, who have pushed through, there’s been a very small percentage of that happening. A lot of the other people in the community have decided to move into their own communities and try to be okay with that.
Then on the other side, there is what this communicates to the entire nation, in terms of, how you can treat Pasifika people, based on events like the Dawn Raids. I think that has obviously seeped out into our society, in business and hiring people and what you should pay them, what they’re worth, how good they are.
Racism, from what I can see, seeps into all sorts of places and nooks and crannies of a society. You don’t have to look too far to see how Pasifika people are treated, not just on the streets, not just in social circles, but everywhere; in business, film and so many industries.
I don’t think we like to see ourselves as oppressed, but from where I’m standing, I really feel it and see that that has happened and there’s been an effect on our community.
You talked about wanting to come back to the culture, that you felt you had deserted it. Can you talk about that?
It’s a little bit hard to talk about still, because of how much I love being Samoan now. But there was a time where when I was young, I didn’t know about systemic racism and I didn’t know what was happening to me when I felt that I wanted to fit into a society that all around me, made fun of Samoans. They were not really revered as anything but the butt of a joke.
My mother and my father wanted for me to have a good life and their way of showing that to me was putting me into predominantly white schools and trying to live in communities that were predominantly white. I appreciate them, of course, but as a result of that, it caused a bit of an identity crisis within me because of this disconnect that I had from my culture.
My Nana was my only source of education on Samoan culture and we were always separated from her. We were always moving, I was always in different schools and different places, so I feel that I was very disconnected. When I started to realise that this had happened, I started coming into my power about being proud to be Samoan. I felt really sad to think that I was embarrassed to be Samoan, that I was embarrassed to come from Porirua and that I felt like I somewhat deserted who I was. Who I am is Samoan.
That still hurts me to think about to this day and I think the way that was created and how that happened was essentially because I wasn’t aware. I didn’t know about systemic racism so all of these things that were around me; the chats, the jokes, all of these things made me feel very insecure about being Samoan growing up.
Then on top of that, we’re in a society where you have these white heroes to look up to. When I was young and when I was coming up, obviously I didn’t know about the Polynesian Panthers. I didn’t have any Pasifika people to look up to, so no one was normalising my life experience. No one was normalising my identity crisis. Essentially, I felt alone and when you feel alone, you want to fit in. I just tried to fit in.
There was a time where I would want to dye my hair all the time. I felt very disconnected and so that still really hurts to talk about, because I am so proud now.
Me being Samoan and going through all of these things, it’s my strength now. I wouldn’t be who I am today, if I hadn’t gone through all of that, so it’s great. But definitely looking back, I wish that there was more representation on film and television, which is maybe why I love doing this and being a filmmaker and wanting to see Samaons on screen.
Do you start to feel that responsibility, in terms of how what you are doing might be inspiring the next generation to tell more of their stories?
I don’t see myself that way. I think it would be great for me to contribute to this change, absolutely. But I don’t see myself that way. I think the work that I feel that I want to do has spawned from my own experience; to normalise different lifestyles and the different things that young kids are going through. Normalising different upbringings, identity, all of it.
I don’t think I’m doing anything other than speaking my truth. I’m being honest. If that inspires people, then I think that’s great.
What’s next? You must be getting onto the feature now, right?
Hopefully. No, definitely. I have a feature, Losa, that’s ready to go. I do understand that we have the Panthers series, which is very exciting and I’m so excited for that to come out. However, I do think there’s room for a film too, and I think that it would be great.
It’s a great script and I’m looking to find the right producers, which is obviously a hard thing that I’m going through right now as well. I really want Pacific people to come out and I want the right people that are just as passionate as I am on this film.
It’s been hard to find that and find people that I’m in alignment with. I’m sure that’ll come, but yes, that’s definitely what I’m on to next. And then another short film called Pepe, which is based on the Samoan myth of Telesa which I want to shoot in Samoa and in Samoan language. We’ll see with the whole COVID thing how that pans out, but those are my next two projects that I’m looking to get underway.
At the beginning of the conversation, you talked about the difficulties with funding; has that become a little bit easier?
Not yet. The way I see it, I think there’s so many people in the same boat as me. There’s not enough. And I’m definitely not the only person that is struggling. I don’t feel sad about it. I understand the process. It would be great to have more funding for Pasifika artists and filmmakers, of course.
All of these conversations that we’re all having right now will hopefully contribute to that, which will be amazing. But right now, I think there are so many of us in the same boat, so I don’t even want to whinge about it. It’s not worth whinging about. I just want to keep getting my story out there.
Hopefully, people read this or hear these things and are in alignment with these stories and want to jump on board and help figure it out with me.
Any advice for anyone wanting to make a career switch to something they’re more passionate about, like you did?
If you really want to do something and it’s from your heart and soul, do it. If you feel this anxiety around it or this imposter syndrome, to be honest, I almost feel like it’s an indicator that you’re leveling up, that you’re stepping up, that you’re becoming something new.
Anxiety doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In terms of this, ‘imposter syndrome’ that I definitely have, I see it as an indicator that you’re doing something you’ve never done before.
We may as well be getting used to it and start thinking about it differently. Go for what you want to do. You’re never going to know if you don’t and it’s better to do it and fail, than not do it and never know.
Top photo by Todd Karehana.