David Whittet Films Blog
Independent New Zealand Film Production

Matakite is Dead, Long Live Kōkā!

Amiri & Aroha Reshoot 1
Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā, a mystic Māori soothsayer

Matakite, a mystic Māori soothsayer played by Cushla Tangaere, had a very significant role in Amiri & Aroha and I had developed her character to play an equally important role in Amiri’s Child.

Cushla had moved away from Gisborne and was not available to participate in the second film. We toyed with the idea of having an older Matakite in Amiri’s Child and making her the aunt of the original Matakite. But circumstances required more decisive action…

Two separate factors brought about this rethink of the Matakite role. The only negative feedback we received from the premiere came from a Māori lady who was told us that a Matakite does not use a crystal ball and was concerned that we had therefore misrepresented a Matakite. Despite the extensive research I had done for the film, including interviews with Matakites who do use crystal balls, I did not wish to cause offense to anyone and considered renaming the character,

Casting the Matakite had been the most difficult part of Amiri & Aroha and Cushla had stepped in as a favour when the Hobbit factor threatened the survival of our production. As a result, I felt the Matakite was the weakest link of the original film. Cushla did not look old enough to be Aroha’s wise confidante and did not have that other worldly look so important for this part.

Now we had the opportunity not only to recast for the second film but to go back and reshoot the scenes in the first film with a new actor. At the auditions, Mariel Ceballos had impressed me with exactly the right look for the film and real enthusiasm for the part. So we made the brave decision to cast Mariel and reshoot a significant portion of Amiri & Aroha alongside the new film. We renamed the character Kōkā, after the Māori word for astronomer, and removed all reference to Matakite.