Review: We Were Dangerous (SXSW 2024)

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Title: We Were Dangerous
MPA Rating: NR
Director: Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu
Starring: Erana James, Nathalie Morris, Manaia Hall
Runtime: 1 hr 23 mins

What It Is: In 1950s New Zealand, three friends named Nellie, Daisy, and Lou spend their days in a reformatory care school, meant to mold the girls into civilians to marry and serve society. They rebel and have fun expressing themselves where they can as they cope with the controlling abuse and monotonous environment, until one day the head matriarch begins abducting a few of the girls in the night to perform invasive medical sessions on them, under recommendation. Together girls start to plot a way out and escape the horrors of the school.

What We Think: A beautiful look into New Zealand’s dark history of racism, conversion, misogyny, and colonialism, this film portrays the lives of these particular girls and their push for freedom in a way that cleverly cultivates a joyously vicarious experience while not shying away from the melancholy of the circumstances. The whole situation, for those less familiar with feminist history, is hauntingly reminiscent of the whitewashing of Native culture in America through similarly rigorous, immoral, and “religious”-centric oppression, the abuse of women protesting for the right to vote, conversion camps… so on so forth to say that this subject matter is still so depressingly relevant. I love how the filmmakers decided to take this route with the film though, honestly palatable enough to where it can appeal and educate masses of adults and teens alike, and doesn’t rely on exploiting trauma in order to get the story across or fluff it up to try and be as loud and dramatic as any Oscar-baity-flick. You enjoy the characters as they continually find ways to laugh and connect with each other, how their pasts, individual and shared, are related to their existence in history and how it continues to affect them and their choices, and ultimately, you care and root for them in their fight. This is a wonderfully empowering yet honest story inspired by director Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu’s family’s real history having to do with cultural repression and conversion, that is delivered by sharp performances by an audacious young cast and filmed through the gaze of someone looking adoringly at those in the past who managed to retaliate just by being themselves.

Our Grade: B+, A refreshing story about the will and friendships of girls and how they survive the thorns of society, We Were Dangerous dares you to understand what makes them and other rebels so ‘dangerous,’ and why that comes so naturally. This is a film I would love to see get more attention and love to continue to inspire and educate, and I look forward to what the director and actresses have to come in the future.

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