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Voices on the margins: the role of New Zealand cinema in the construction of national and cultural identity

This thesis is based on the proposition that the New Zealand feature film Broken English (1996, Gregor Nicholas) constitutes a ‘break’ in New Zealand cinema on the level of its subject matter. Where feature films before ‘imagined’ New Zealand overwhelmingly in either mono-cultural or bi-cultural terms, Broken English quite specifically provides a multi-cultural perspective. What makes it particularly problematic however is that its creative personnel consists mostly of Pakeha New Zealanders, while the film features virtually no Pakeha characters. The expectation from the outset then is that this film can tell us much not only about the workings of the film industry in New Zealand, but also about national identity in general, and how this gets defined in particular contexts. As a result, it can also tell us much about the relations of power involved in this process. Overall then, this thesis is an attempt to work through issues of national identity, in relation to concepts of ethnicity, race and diaspora. It takes Broken English as its main focus to explore where policy makers, film makers and viewers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds situate themselves and others within the nation. By extension it investigates how they see the role of cinema in relation to national and cultural identity, and what kind of discourses they draw on in doing so. Although there is a lot of research which deals with different aspects of these discourses, there is little research which combines them and shows how they relate to each other and how they inform both media texts and engagement with those texts. This thesis is an attempt to close those gaps to some extent. In terms of methodology, this thesis follows a tripartite structure (production-text-reception), linked by a discourse analytic framework. This methodology allows for an exploration of the process of making meaning, and identifies the gaps and fissures between these different realms. In conclusion, this thesis argues that Broken English can be seen on one level as an important attempt to bring different minority groups into the mainstream, and thus represents an inclusive version of the nation. However, the problematic ways in which it does so illustrates the complexities involved in such a project in a contemporary New Zealand context.
Type of thesis
Huijser, H. J. (2002). Voices on the margins: the role of New Zealand cinema in the construction of national and cultural identity (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13830
The University of Waikato
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