New local drama The Panthers couldn’t feel more timely, premiering just a fortnight after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a formal apology for the Dawn Raids – the historic racist policing of Polynesian people. This is also the year that the Polynesian Panther Party celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Based on true events, the series kicks off in 1974, and retells the birth of the Black Panthers-inspired activist group that was formed and led by young Aotearoa-born Pacific people, who’d been raised in Auckland’s inner-city suburbs.
Dimitrius Koloamatangi helms the series as Will ‘Ilolahia, the young university student who became the Panthers’ chairman for its first five years, and he’s supported by a terrific local cast which includes both new and established actors.
Series creators Tom Hern (Pork Pie, The Dark Horse) and Halaifonua Finau (Jonah, SIS) have excelled at recreating the racist mood of 1970s New Zealand – in the neighbourhoods of Tāmaki Makaurau, as well as in the corridors of Parliament and the police force. Archival news footage of palagi New Zealanders opining on the people who were brought over from the Pacific Islands to work feels tragically jarring to modern ears, and the speeches of former PM Robert Muldoon (played with relish by Roy Billing) sound all too Trump-like. This is a vital piece of contemporary history, retold by some of our best and brightest creatives.