Colonialism in The Piano

Postcolonialism can be directly related to the film, The Piano. The film takes place in New Zealand, one of England’s many colonies. When we first get to New Zealand in the film, a colony has been established and there are few living there. Although there are tensions with the locals, they are nonviolent ones and it appears that the two are in communication. In colonialism, local people are usually exploited. In The Piano, The local Maori are seen preforming serious labor such as carrying Ada’s piano through the jungle. The dominant figures are the white settlers more specifically Baines and Stewart. The two are seen as civilized however Stewart is more of an Aristocrat than Baines. Baines seems to identify with the Maori as seen by his facial tattoos. Despite his tattoos he is still a white male character and the film follows the set standard of a white woman falling in love with a white man. It would have been more interesting if she fell in love with a Maori. The others or less dominant characters would include the Maori and Ada. Ada is sent to New Zealand as part of an arranged marriage where the Maori come off as poor. The characters directly follow the identity-constructed chart. In one scene the Maori are frightened at the drop of a piano. While in another, Baines comes off as hypersexual being during his arrangement with Ada. The identity constructed chart can be applied to almost all of the characters.





When I first saw The Piano, I didn’t really think too much about race. However after reading Romanticizing Colonialism: Power and Pleasure in Jane Campion’s The Piano, it became apparent to me that the film somewhat ignores the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. There isn’t a single Maori who is given a name or a significant scene and they don’t really play major roles in this story at all. They are seen carrying Ada’s belongings through the jungle, which is a burden. In the film the Maori are an unspecific tribe who have no villages, homes, or even relationships. Their language isn’t even subtitled throughout the film. In the film the Europeans and Maori seem to live peacefully together with very minor disagreements. The film does not provide a specific time frame but the article does provide insight on interactions between the two groups. From the 18th to 19th century the Maori resistance was one of the “bloodiest” and “longest” resistances of colonialism. Resistance was so strong and persisted that the Waitangi Tribunal was brought back into power. The New Zealand government, a “Pakeha” (white) government illegally subverts the Maori version of the treaty and is described as being racist. Jane Campion, a “Pakeha” New Zealander wrote The Piano in the mid 1980s, during which there were many Maori protests which even included to change the name New Zealand to its Maori name, Aotearoa. I find this odd because how could the director of the film be around much resistance and protest and not include significant Maori characters in the film? Overall the film is lacking in the treatment of the Maori.



2 thoughts on “Colonialism in The Piano

  1. I love that you chose to talk about colonialism within the movie. I think many viewers ignore the fact that during this time, New Zealand was being colonized by the English. You do see how the indigenous people of the island are treated by the settlers, and how they become workers for the settlers. I personally don’t think the settlers treated them with respect, and you could see tension between the two groups of people.


  2. Great review. Although I didn’t find the movie as good as expected, i like that you talk about its historical references to the time and place in colonialism. Tensions with the colonialists, trading guns for land, its little things like that the movie hints at which brings the realism to the screen.


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