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Abstract

Whale Rider represents a particular type of mythic film that includes within it references to an ancient sacred story and is itself a contemporary recapitulation of it. The movie also belongs to a further subcategory of mythic cinema, using the double citation of the myth—in its original form and its re-enactment—to critique the subordinate position of women to men in the narrated world. To do this, the myth is extended beyond its traditional scope and context. After looking at how the movie embeds the story and recapitulates it, this paper examines the film’s reception. To consider the variety of positions taken by critics, it then analyses the traditional myth as well as how the book first worked with it. The conclusion is, in distinction to the book, that the film drives a wedge between the myth’s original sacred function to provide meaning in the world for the Maori people and its extended intention to empower women, favoring the latter at the former’s expense.