Labour of Love
Hanelle Harris & the Baby Mama’s Club
Wahine Toa: Strong. Powerful. Influential. I can’t think of a more accurate description to portray my soul-sis, Hanelle Harris. You may know her as a New Zealand director and actress. But to me, she is more than that. She is a risk taker. A woman who has overcome many road blocks along her journey in life. And a woman who, today, has solidified her place in the New Zealand film industry as a creative force to be reckoned with.
Of course I had to start this piece with a Beyoncé reference. The moment I met Hanelle, we clicked. It was our very love for Beyoncé that took our friendship to the next level (no exaggeration). In 2010, Jay Z was in Auckland on tour with U2 and word got to us that Beyoncé was here with him. We made a plan to see her in the flesh and literally sat outside Mollies Hotel in Herne Bay waiting for a sighting. After hours of waiting, it’s sad to say all we saw was a helicopter leaving nearby and that was the closest we got to ‘The Carters’ haha.
Throughout our failed stake outs and University years, Hanelle's passion for film (and Beyoncé) was evident. She was always beaming with ideas for new shows, short films and was always involved in one project of some sort.
Watching her journey through her studies as a young mum, I admired her drive for her craft. She juggled motherhood and GOT HER DEGREE – something I struggled with and I have no children haha. The amount of admiration I have for her is HUGE.
As a Maori woman on screen, it has been inspiring to see her star in films Orphans & Kingdoms and Hilary. Behind the screen, she has directed Ahikaroa (a new show on Maori Television) and she has also produced film-festival favourites Maria and The Promise of Piha- both that have found success on an international scale.
More recently, her accurate observations about being a ‘baby mama’ for women in their twenties has seen her web series Baby Mama’s Club become a viral sensation.
After the success of the first pilot episode and the widely publicised social media experiment, #FindingJohnny, the uprising of her and four other fresh poly faces has really got the social media realm talking.
If you haven’t watched the series yet (or have seen the trailer that has clocked up over 400k views) , the show tells the everyday story of four baby mamas negotiating life as they are brought together after finding out all of them share the same baby daddy who is low and behold Johnny.
Played by Hanelle Harris (Shandon aka Shan), Suivai Autagavaia (Malia), Moana Johnson (Kowhai) and Luciane Buchanan (Sophia) – who are all of Pacific and Maori descent - I got the chance to sit down and have a quick Q&A with the girls about the show.
MEET THE GIRLS
Name: Hanelle Harris
Nationality (villages/iwi): Maori (Ngapuhi, Ngati Tuwharetoa ki Kawerau), Lebanese
Tell us about your role on BMC: I play Club Kong manager Shan. She’s sarcastic and a hard ass but there’s a really deep and interesting back story to her which I think people will really connect with. She used to see Johnny on the casual but he’s borrowed money from her and now she’s after blood.
Are you anything like her in real life? She’s probably a Sasha Fierce or alter ego of myself. We both swear like crazy and she’s definitely “one of the boys” which I relate to. I wish I was balling like her for real though!
What themes do you explore on Baby Mama’s club?
Firstly, we wanted to film another type of brown. So we have a good mix of nationalities from Maori, Samoan to Tongan. The show highlights cultural differences in how it is to be a young mother. A young Maori mother versus a young Samoan mother comes with such differences. So all characters are rooted in their own experiences. Themes like whangai and teen pregnancy will be explored as well.
How important is it for you as a brown storyteller to share this female perspective?
Three Wise Cousins really inspired people to go out there and make their own stuff. We hope that we are part of that movement of story tellers who are inspiring others. At the end of the day, we need to be the ones telling our stories. There’s so much more behind this project. In front of the camera you are seeing brown women, behind the camera what people don’t know is that they are all women who are Pacific, Maori, Asian and Pakeha. All key decision makers behind the scenes are women. We don’t want to be exclusive but we really want to take charge with telling our stories.
Most people wanted to know WHY the “Finding Johnny” video?
We had a marketing strategy and it wasn’t a fluke. We wanted to have an impact. It wasn’t a cheap marketing hoax. It was a way to provide a discussion and get people to care about it so much they would want to see it translated into story. There was thought and calculation in that. To see it go viral was very exhilarating. Big props to Luciane for being the face of that. She stepped up to a huge challenge and was taking a risk.
Name: Suivai Autagavaia (MALIA)
Age:28 yrs old
Nationality/villages: Samoan Kiwi - Vailoa Palauli and Fogatuli Savii Samoa
Tell us about your role on BMC: In BMC I play the role of “Malia”. She is a mirror image of me- Selfless, loving and caring. She is the glue that keeps her large family together. She feels shame (because she is being a young unmarried mother). A bi product of her cultural and religious traditions. She still has hope for her and Johnny to be that “happy family”. She is as tough as nails and will stand her ground, she doesn’t give up easily. Malia is a game changer waiting to slay for the sisters! That’s what sums her up!
Are you anything like her in real life? I can 100% relate to my character “Malia”. I have been there and know how hard that struggle is and what an emotional roller coaster it can be. I also know that a lot of young Samoan women can relate to Malia and her situation. I am so blessed to play this role. I hope it helps others. #TeamMalia
Favourite movie line: “You is kind, you is smart and you is important” from The Help.
Who inspires you: My close creative family who have achieved their goals. My son and family who give me that push every day to live my dreams and. I want to show my son that your dreams can become a reality if you believe and work hard.
What is one of the biggest misconceptions people think when you tell them you’re an Actress? When family find out that you’re an actress they say, “acting won’t put food on the table, pay the bills and put clothes on you" or “It’s not a real job”.
If you weren’t an Actress, you would be...A flight attendant or a youth worker. I love traveling and working with youth.
Insert favourite inspirational quote: "Work hard in silence and let your success make the noise”
Name: Moana Johnson (KOWHAI)
Nationality: Maori (Tuhoe, Te Atiawa)
Tell us about your role on BMC: I play the role of Kowhai who is Johnny's childhood sweetheart. She singlehandedly raises their 8-year-old daughter and is trying to follow her dreams of becoming a singer/songwriter whilst juggling the responsibilities of being a mother and supporting her little
Are you anything like her in real life? The character Kowhai was based on a lot of my experiences of being a young, single mother.
Favourite food: Bagels with avocado
Favourite movie line: "Bit sick Barty?" (Sorry it's a YouTube line)
Who inspires you? My beautiful family
Biggest misconceptions: People think that you're acting all the time and are incapable of real emotions. Also, people think that actors make lots of money - they don't.
If I weren't an actress I would be a... costume designer.
Favourite quote: "Winner winner chicken dinner"
Name: Luciane Buchanan (SOPHIA)
Nationality (villages/iwi): Tongan/NZ European
Tell us about your role on BMC: I play Sophia, she's a preppy 'fie/a palangi' and on to it law student, who's world gets flipped upside down when she finds out she's pregnant to Johnny who's all of a sudden dropped off the face of the earth.
Are you anything like her in real life? Little parts of myself I bring into Sophia, she's young and hasn't really found her identity compared to the other girls, especially when it comes to her cultural identity, and that's something I can relate to being a New Zealand born half-caste
Favourite movie line: "Chancho! I need to borrow some sweats!" -Nacho Libre
Who inspires you: My mum.
What is one of the biggest misconceptions people think when you tell them you're an Actress: That the dream is to make it big in Hollywood, which is awesome if you do, but that's not my reason for perusing acting. I'd love to do projects all over the world but I'm really drawn to the stories that we want to tell from here in Aoetearoa.
If you weren't an Actress, you would be... I also study Psychology, so I'd love to do research in indigenous psychology and maybe go into social work.
Insert favourite Inspirational quote: "Don't worry about getting old, you're still here and that is a privilege."
For episodes check out the Baby Mama’s on Social Media:
Episodes in NZ: tvnz.co.nz
Episodes International: www.youtube.com/BMCProductionsNZ
Thank you Baby Mamas (Vai, Luciane, Moana) for being a voice for so many Brown Gals out there! What you four have is Girl Power in it's truest form! Hanelle, Hanelle, Hanelle lol - you my Sister are an inspiration to so many aspiring Creatives! Keep pushing the boundaries with your story-telling. We need more!