Sisters Ani (28), Mia (22) and Sevarn (16), from Auckland, are determined to use their passion for creative technologies to change the way Māori and Pasifika peoples, and wāhine, are represented on big and small screens and in the creative technology industry.
28-year-old Ani Tawhiao-Lomas says from an early age she knew she wanted to pursue a career in creative technology, but the lack of diversity she saw when she started out in the sector was disappointing.
“Initially, I studied graphic design and decided I wanted to expand my skills in that area, so I studied a Diploma in Motion Design and Visual Effects at Media Design School and then was one of the first students to study a bachelor course, completing the Bachelor of Art and Design - 3D Animation and VFX,” says Ani.
“When I started working in the film sector in post-production in 2015, even then, the lack of diversity, in the representation of wāhine, of Māori and Pasifika peoples really shocked me.”
However, Ani says signs are promising that progress is underway.
Increasing number of Māori and Pasifika in film and animation
“The great thing is that since then, I have seen things start to change – a lot of my peers have gone on to do amazing things in film and animation. And we have great influencers like Taika Waititi in Hollywood, using his language and introducing Māori culture to places like America.
"It is really inspiring and that’s the kind of momentum and change I want to be part of and see more of.”
In 2020, NZ On Air’s Diversity Report, which monitors gender, ethnic and regional representation across funded screen productions, showed that the number of Māori producers increased by 6% since 2017. But, while the gender gap between male and female directors is closing, with the number of female directors increasing from 33% in 2017 to 41.9% in 2020, just 19% of directors identify as Māori.
Ani’s younger sister, Mia Tawhiao-Lomas, 22, who is studying a Bachelor of Creative Technologies - Game Art at Media Design School, hopes to use her love of gaming to change the way Māori stories are told and the way people are represented.
“I’ve always played games and been drawn to the narrative, story-telling aspects of the games and the characters,” Mia explains.
“For me, there is a definite lack of Māori representation in the media we consume, but like Ani, I am seeing things start to evolve. I am really inspired by people in the industry like Maru Nihoniho who founded Metia Interactive. She is creating a Māori game telling the story of a wahine Māori, which is fantastic.
“Being able to create stories about our people and our culture ourselves – through games, through film and other mediums – is something that is very important to me and my sisters.”
Creativity certainly runs in the Tawhiao-Lomas family. Shona Tawhiao is a fashion designer and Rongotai Lomas is an artist and a director of small films.
While 16-year-old Sevarn is just starting out on her creative journey, she says she is inspired by her parents, her sisters, and local artisans.
“I am still deciding what path I want to take in terms of my studies and future career, but the Digital Creativity Foundation Program at Media Design School is giving me the chance to explore all the possibilities, find out what I’m really passionate about and where I can make an impact in our community and beyond.”
Māori sisters’ experience at Media Design School
One thing the sisters have all experienced is a wealth of support, expertise and industry insights they have received at Media Design School.
Ani, who completed a Master of Design in 2020, says Media Design School is proactive in supporting and cultivating diversity on campus.
“The wonderful thing about Media Design School is that the support is there, not just in terms of learning and education, but also in terms of culture and diversity – for
Māori and Pasifika peoples and for the students who come from all over the world to study in New Zealand,” says Ani.
“It’s something Media Design School does well, and it has had, and will continue to have, a ripple effect through the creative technologies industry in New Zealand and around the world.”
Mia adds that the lecturers and tutors bring a wealth of industry experience and knowledge to the classroom.
“A lot of my tutors have worked in game companies in New Zealand and overseas, others are working on their own indie projects as well as teaching, so we really get to tap into their experience and knowledge, and they can open doors to the industry.”
Last week, the sisters took part in TechWeek2021 sharing how whānau (family) support has enabled them to pursue creative technology to change and improve Māori communities. They hope it will inspire other Māori and Pasifika peoples to share their stories.
“Culture and gender should not hold anyone back from pursuing their dreams. It is important that we work together and encourage people to be proud of themselves, their culture and to share that pride and their stories with others,” says Ani.
“We are each finding our own way to use creative technologies to change the way Māori people, and wāhine, are represented in our industry and in society and that is really exciting.”
Media Design School is part of Torrens Global Education.