Identity and reconciliation are explored in Rurangi, a moving New Zealand drama about a trans man returning to his hometown for the first time
Elz Carrad stars as Caz, an out trans man living in Auckland who’s an outspoken member of his community. We see him organising a poster campaign surrounded by friends, engaging in a happy if somewhat secretive relationship and speaking out as an advocate for queer mental health. But when he suffers a trauma he sinks into a depression and comes to realise that his life may not be quite as ”whole” as it first appears. We follow Caz as he travels back to his rural hometown of Rurangi for the first time in ten years in an effort to reconcile with his estranged father and friends, none of whom have heard from him since before he transitioned. Beautifully shot and scored and packing a powerful emotional punch, Rurangi has recently been scooped up by US streaming giant Hulu.
Back in Rurangi Caz first reintroduces himself to the best friend he abandoned Anahera (Awhina Rose Ashby) who we find is struggling with her own indigenous identity. As a Maori woman who doesn’t speak Maori she is trying to learn her language and culture in secret, ashamed to go to a language class that’s full of white people. Next is a run in with Caz’s highschool boyfriend Jem (Arlo Green) who finds himself forced to question his own sexuality in the face of Caz’s transition and his feelings for him. Reconciliation with his father (Kird Torrance) proves the most difficult as we learn that Caz is absolutely not without fault in their relationship – he had made the painful decision not to return home when his mother got sick with cancer and died.
Happily though, whilst there are many difficult and scary conversations to be had, Rurangi does not feel like a film about trans trauma. Whilst the smalltown may have felt stifling to our lead character in his youth, we come to see that his friends and family have each spent the last ten years on their own journey of self discovery, each questioning their own identity and values, growing and changing as people. Each comes to see that the person they knew and loved is still there, bonds are reforged and familiarity rediscovered. Whilst angst is unavoidable it’s ultimately a very positive, hopeful film.
Rurangi to me seems to drive home the message that however much fear and trauma we hold in our past it’s important to remember that everyone is capable of growth, and to not be our true authentic selves with the people around us robs them of that opportunity to grow. Caz has every reason to be afraid of his hometown’s reactions but to count these people out has been a mistake. Another strong theme is the casting off of shame, with both Caz and Anahera working to overcome their fears about embracing their identities in every aspect of their lives. An absolute favourite scene was one between Anahera and her Maori language teacher, whilst they’re discussing language specifically I found the final words very poignant. ”First they shamed us for speaking it, now we get shamed for not speaking it, but ask yourself, who benefits from our shame?”
Rurangi is a breath of fresh air in terms of trans representation in storytelling, embracing the authentic lived experiences of it’s gender diverse cast, crew and writers it’s a vital look into the notions transmasculine identity, family and community in New Zealand that steers clear of the traumatic transition stories that are often aimed primarily at cis-audiences. Elevated by it’s wonderful cast, Rurangi is a genuinely lovely thing and my only complaint about it is that it ended all too soon.
We’re not interested in seeing another story told about us, any more transition stories, trauma or tropes. These are so often about how other people see us, how other people experience us. We want to see stories on screen made by us.
Rūrangi writer and co-producer Cole Meyers, on the NZ International Film Festival website
Rurangi is playing as part of BFI Flare, the London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, between 17th – 28th March. You can buy tickets to stream it right here