Same But Different: A True New Zealand Love Story

by Noe Kamelamela

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 8, 2019

'Same But Different: A True New Zealand Love Story'
'Same But Different: A True New Zealand Love Story'  

The zany "Same But Different: A True New Zealand Love Story" is not what I expected from a romantic comedy. As a film with a lot of dry, witty Kiwi humor, it contains a lot of delicious, chewy morsels of understated political and historical commentary. Clueless and gorgeous, light-skinned Maori Rachel has been careening through life as a professional disaster from one barely-planned event to another, barely escaping the doom she brings down onto herself through laziness and a lack of care. As a single mom with an overbearing mother, her artistic inclinations mean that she manages to perform in a small indie that lands at a local indigenous film festival. There, she meets the love of her life, Nikki, a Samoan filmmaker. Her life, never easy before, takes a bit of a nosedive as she figures out two new things: Who she is, and what she wants.

It is beautiful to see through the eyes of other indigenous folks. Maori customs and language are presented not as if the scenes were part of an anthropology documentary, but as fluidly and as openly as possible without external commentary. The lens refrains from "othering" another culture, and characters judge and chastise any character who does engage in or advocate for racist behaviors or thoughts. It is useful and realistic to portray a lighter-skinned native who is awkward around other indigenous people. (I am also lighter-skinned, and I think my presence alone sometimes can make even my own darker-skinned family slightly uncomfortable.) Other markers of being a part of the dominant culture, such as speaking "proper English" or wearing certain clothes or having an English name, can be othering and alienating. Some native people decide to stay ignorant about their heritage because they believe that to be native is a negative thing.

"Same But Different" doesn't take an academic approach to delving into these topics, but rather mingles and mixes these factors in to keep up the pace. This film being at a film festival is just as hilarious and meta and full circle as the other things in this movie. This is, in fact, based on a true story of a Samoan filmmaker and a light-skinned Kiwi falling in love. As a Queer Pacific Islander myself, it is glorious to get to see a story like this, one that has meaningful, nuanced things to say about internalized racism and bias in particular by showing how racist systems interact, but can't keep people apart. As Rachel explores her desire for a Samoan woman, she is treated respectfully by family and close friends, her fears and wants are treated as ordinary or barely remarkable.

Noe Kamelamela is a reader who reads everything and a writer who writes very little.