In a small New Zealand coastal village, Maori claim descent from Paikea, the Whale Rider. In every generation, a male heir has succeeded to the chiefly title. The time is now. When twins are born, and the boy twin dies, Koro, the chief, is unable to accept his grand-daughter, Pai, as a future leader.

A few years later, Koro is convinced that the tribe's misfortunes began at Pai's birth and calls for his people to bring their sons to him, in the hope that the new leader is among them. Pai loves Koro more than anyone in the world, but she must stand up to him and a thousand years of tradition to reveal the true way forward.


The film starts with the death of a young mother during the birth of twins. The boy twin dies, the girl survives. The distraught father Porourangi, Cliff Curtis, takes off for foreign parts leaving his daughter in the care of his father, the chief Koro, Rawiri Paratene. As the young girl Pai, Keisha Castle-Hughes, grows she seems deeply connected to the traditions of her culture. Unfortunately Koro can?t see beyond the fact that she?s a girl. He needs a male to lead his people in the future and can?t forgive his son for abandoning his responsibilities. Pai tries to please her grandfather and can?t really understand why he?s so hard on her. This absolutely charming film began life when the Maori writer Witi Ihimaera was living in New York and a whale became stranded in the Hudson River. This took him back to his childhood and the whale stories of his people who, according to legend are descendants of the Whale Rider. There are some amazing scenes in the film with whales stranded on a beach and with Pai actually riding one. Niki Caro has directed this uplifting story with great sensitivity, eliciting affecting performances from a sterling cast, and a wonderful one from newcomer Keisha Castle- Hughes. It?s not surprising that this film has such a good connection with audiences.Comments by David StrattonA refreshingly natural performance from 11-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes is the centerpiece of this feel-good movie which, though it's predictable enough, really touches the heart. There's a beautiful feeling for this isolated Maori community as it goes through a time of change.