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SIS: Our Stories, Our Sovereignty, Our Sacrifice

“We know we can’t own it, we also know that it belongs to us”

Hanelle Harris (Ngāphui), alongside the other co-creators of the series SIS, announced last night in an Instagram Live that they would be leaking the first season of the show in protest against the exploitation and diminishment of their mahi and values. They allege that the platform it was slated to release on was trying to scam them and their viewers. Harris and the cast have been working on the series for the last three years, and the season was set to be released today on Comedy Central – but now the episodes are free to stream on Vimeo.

The cast of 'Sis', Hillary Samuela, Gaby Solomona, Suivai Pilisipi Autagavaia [Photo: Comedy Central]

SIS, a satirical take on the New Zealand TV and film industry, follows a group of Pasifika and Māori women as they try to create a comedy show. They must do so whilst navigating their racist and misogynistic boss, as well as the difficulties of being funny, loud, clever, brown women in the TV and film industry – and in Aotearoa in general. It is almost comical that a show that explicitly speaks to this mistreatment and commercialisation of wāhine Māori and wāhine Pasifika in this country has no other option than to radicalise their own work in order to see change. Unfortunately, this is often the case for our communities as we are once again put on the frontline of pushing for cultural shift and progress.

In the Instagram Live video, Destiny Momoisea spoke to this bitterness, saying,

“This was ironic and insulting as the show itself talks directly about these issues of story sovereignty. However, the mistreatment we experienced is not the first and we know it won’t be the last. Our story is common and it is a system of a sick industry.”

Creators of Sis on live via Instagram [Photo: Instagram]

“The mistreatment we experienced is not the first and we know it won’t be the last. Our story is common and it is a system of a sick industry.”

When our Māori and Pasifika creatives and storytellers are courageous enough in their vulnerability to speak out and risk being ‘blacklisted’ (a term that itself has racist connotations) from the industry they themselves have worked tirelessly to reimagine, it is only a poignant reminder that the systemic centring of whiteness is everywhere.

Hanelle Harris, an incredibly talented artist and writer referenced the protest actions of another great Māori storyteller, Barry Barclay (Ngāti Apa). In 1996, Barclay staged a solo protest against New Zealand On Air outside their Wellington office in retaliation for the rampant racism of the broadcasting authority and funding system.

Barry Barclay protesting outside the NZ on Air office Wellington 1995 [Photo: Phil Reid]

And this is a continual struggle for our Indigenous makers and creators globally.

“We refuse to be complicit in a system that forces us to go against our values,” Harris says. “We give the show back to you, the people.” Quoting Barry Barclay, Harris explains their decision: “We know we can’t own it, we also know that it belongs to us.”

From the outset, SIS has maintained that it was a show created and made by the people, for the people. But Harris says there is no independent watchdog, authority, or union to investigate the many “stories of racism, discrimination, sexual abuse and bullying” Māori and Pasifika experience in the industry. “The only institutions we can log our complaints to are the very ones that are perpetuating this harm against our people. Even though most of these local stories and projects are actually funded by [you] the New Zealand tax payer and that is why we're asking for your help.” Along with the link to watch the new season of SIS, the creators have also released an open letter and petition addressed to parliament and the New Zealand public asking for equity and justice for all in the Aotearoa screen sector.

Signatures are flooding in from across the country – and rightfully so. As viewers, we have more power than we realise, and it is time to flex it. Barclay’s protest in the 1990s was a solo one. What if this time, we mobilised our heightened connectivity and influence?

We must hold these multi-billion dollar industries and corporations to account and we must support our whānau who have and will continue to sacrifice their livelihoods in recognition of our collective futures.

Ka whawhai tonu mātou!

Nā Briar Pomana (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa, Rakaipaaka)

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.


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