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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The importance of family and identity are central to the story. Culture and heritage are celebrated, but also rejected as customs conflict with the modern world. Perseverance and courage are prominent. Some racist behavior is depicted but it's clearly highlighted as being wrong.
Positive Role Models
Separated from her family from a young age, Mata is brought up in an orphanage, often finding herself the victim of bullying and abuse both from the staff and fellow kids. She subsequently has a low opinion of herself, appears to have some kind of mental illness, and struggles to make meaningful relationships. While she rejects some of the customs of her Maori culture, Makareta cares deeply for her family, and shows great perseverance in her quest to track Mata down. She also approaches her illness with courage and humor. Missy takes the role of family matriarch after Makareta steps aside. She is no nonsense, using unconventional methods to protect her family's land. But she is also kind and shows great affection and compassion toward Makareta, Mata, and others. Mrs. Parkinson, Mata's legal guardian, is shown to be a liar, bully, and a racist. The Maori culture is at the center of the story with the majority of the cast made up of Maori people or people of Maori descent.
Violence & Scariness
Multiple references to parents dying or being dead. Someone mistakenly believes their uncle burned to death. A parent places their child in an orphanage where they experience bullying and abuse, often racially motivated, and sometimes at the hands of other children. This includes being pushed to the floor and having their head held in a dirty puddle. Another child comes to their aid and punches and pushes the bullies. A child is caned for supposedly misbehaving. Character fires a rifle twice from distance in an an attempt to scare off two people on their land. Someone wakes up in the middle of the night suffering from a panic attack. A mother experiences a still birth. The baby is briefly seen covered in blood before being covered in a towel. Character is told their cancer has spread. They die at home in a chair and their body is later seen in an open coffin. Two kids act at a scene from The Lone Ranger comics by using their hands to portray guns.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some references to sex, including by a young child who pretends to be pregnant by sticking a pillow up her dress. Character climbs into bed with their partner in just their underwear and vest and makes sexual advances, but backs away when they're not reciprocated. Some mild flirting, instances of dating and romance. Character makes a joke about giving up "red wine and sex." Someone kisses their partner who is lying under the sheets in bed. Character is briefly seen in their nightdress while getting changed.
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Some racist language including "blackie" and Maori people being "unsavory." Other language includes "f---ing," "f----rs," "s--t," "bitch," "d--khead," "bloody hell" "bastard," "mongrels," and "buggered off." Some "jokey" references to sex are made by a young child: "a man stuck his thing in me."
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Products & Purchases
Scene involves co-workers encouraging someone to spend their wages on gifts for themselves. A character buys a dress for someone they are pursuing romantically.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some characters are occasionally seen smoking. Some drinking of beer both at social gatherings and in a bar, but no drunkenness is depicted. One character is seen pouring alcohol from a hip flask into their cup of coffee. In a later scene, they are shown drinking wine and seem to be mildly intoxicated. Reference to someone giving up the "booze."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Cousins is a New Zealand drama about three Maori women and the different lives they end up leading, with strong language and instances of racism. The movie is in English and Maori (with subtitles) and provides an intimate look at Maori traditions and culture. The story centers around the lives of three cousins, Mata, Makareta, and Missy, who are each played by three different actors as the action flicks back and forth across multiple decades. Family and identity are key to the plot as the three cousins all experience their Maori heritage in different ways. As a child, Mata is put into an orphanage with limited contact with her Maori "whanau." There she is subjected to racism, bullying, and abuse, both from the fellow kids and the staff. This includes being called "blackie" and having her head held down in a muddy puddle, while another kid is caned for misbehaving. Later in life she experiences homelessness and some unspecified mental illness. But Makareta and Missy both show great perseverance in their efforts to track Mata down. The language is fairly frequent and includes "f--k," "bitch," and "d--khead." During one distressing scene, a mother gives birth to a stillborn baby. The baby is briefly seen, covered in blood, before being covered in a towel. There is some smoking, as befitting some of the time periods depicted. There is also some drinking, including one character pouring alcohol from her hip flask into her coffee. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Adapted from Patricia Grace's popular novel, this New Zealand drama about family, identity, and Maori culture demands your attention. Set across multiple decades, Cousins moves back and forth between the three protagonists' lives, from childhood to young and older adulthood. If you don't keep up, the story may be hard to follow. And even if you do stick with the nonlinear narrative, there are many blanks to fill in. For example, there's no big sequence into how Mata finds herself to be experiencing homelessness, although it's easy to see how. But the beauty of the movie -- which gives an insight into Maori culture so rarely seen on-screen -- is not so much with the journey, but rather the destination.
At the center of the film is the issue of identity and family, or as called in Maori culture, "whanau." All three cousins have different relationships with their heritage. Makareta steps away from it, running away on the day of her arranged marriage, leaving Missy to volunteer to take her place, recognizing what it means to her family. Meanwhile, Mata, the tragic figure of the piece, cruelly has her identity taken away from her, placed in an orphanage and given the "White" name, May. The film won't be for everyone. But those who commit fully to the 98-minute running time will see a story that will linger long after the closing credits.
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