By: Michael Walsh
In 1981, South Africa’s rugby team, The Springboks, was invited to play games against the All Blacks (New Zealand’s rugby team) around New Zealand.
Tensions are high as apartheid continues to separate South Africa, and New Zealanders who are driven by conscience are unhappy with the South African team being invited and welcomed to play in their country. Yet, racial tensions are not just present in South Africa as simmering tensions are also beginning to reach a boiling point in the island nation.
As the racial issues arise, Joshua Waaka (Julian Dennison), a 17-year-old growing up in Dunedin with his widowed mother (Minnie Driver) and recovering older brother (James Rolleston). He’s a quiet kid who tries to keep a low profile as one of the few Māori kids at the predominately all-white St. Gilberts School for Men. But when Mr. Madigan (Rhys Darby), the English teacher, takes an interest in young Josh, he begins to find an outlet in drama. This leads to familial tensions as he experiences the pressure to play rugby. Having a former All Black player for a father, and a junior All Black for a brother, Josh is torn between keeping his family and the school principal happy and pursuing his acting aspirations. However, a chance encounter with local protesters leads to Josh finding his voice not only in the dramatic world but also in the political arena as he comes to terms with his identity and heritage.
The story of Uproar is both specific to a time and place in history and culture, but also a broadly emotional story with plenty of relatable moments. Most people will be able to find a character, a moment, or a story they personally connect with. It’s a beautifully earnest and engaging film about standing up for what is right, making your voice heard, finding your identity, and treasuring your heritage. Julian Dennison is uproarious, making audiences laugh and tearfully cry. Minnie Driver shines as his mother, doing her best to make ends meet and raise her two boys as best she can. Harsh words are spoken out of fear of losing her son to unfounded hopes, but eventually, healing comes, and a mother becomes a number one supporter. James Rolleston and Rhys Darby give great supporting turns, each navigating personal weaknesses to find inspiration from Josh to get up and conquer their fears. Erana James and Jada Fa’atui are powerful and driven as they fight for what is right and lead their community to action.
This Kiwi comedy is a heartwarming, crowd-pleasing, coming-of-age journey that should have something for everyone. Rooted in deep history, hurt, and healing, Uproar should make audiences feel hopeful and motivated to follow their dreams and make their voices heard.
Reel Dialogue: Where do we find our identity?
Most coming-of-age movies have a common theme: “who am I”. It’s a question that many young people ponder as they begin to enter adulthood and forge their own identity. Our identities are important things and are influenced by a variety of factors. In Uproar, Josh has to navigate his mixed Māori-English heritage as he reconnects with his whānau (family) and begins thinking more about his future. The identity of New Zealand is posited to be “he iwi tahi tātou” or “we are all one people”.
The Bible affirms that we have unity not despite diversity but because of our diversity. We are all different parts of one body. And our collective identity is as children of God, dearly loved by Him and bought at a price by His Son. And why did Christ pay the ultimate price for us? Because our individual identities are as precious and unique people, formed by God and known and loved by Him. Where do you find your identity?
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”