What have you done in the past year?
Finished a huge project? Sat your final exams? Got a new job, or started at a new school? Started following your dreams?
Imagine doing all that and – like Erana James has. In the space of barely a year, she’s finished a film, passed her final year exams, graduated from high school, started university, and is now climbing up the acting ladder. Oh, and she’s only 18.
James is one of the stars of The Changeover, a film adapted from the 1984 Margaret Mahy novel of the same name. James says the story itself is a pretty easy one to follow. “The Changeover is a supernatural thriller about a young woman named Laura Chant (who James plays) and it is a love story between her and her little brother Jacko,” she explains. “Jacko gets stamped by an evil spirit and Laura has to go on a journey of self-discovery and self-growth in order to save her brother. It is a story of a girl changing over from sensitive to a witch and from girl to woman.”
James says working with big names like Lucy Lawless, Melanie Lynskey, Timothy Spall and Dame Kate Harcourt was a privilege. But more important, she says, is the message of the film – and particularly its message for young women. “I hope young women will see Laura standing up for herself and taking charge of her life in the positive way in which it was intended,” she says. “Whilst there are a few strong female protagonists in the media at the moment, all saving the world, Laura is saving the world in a more grounded and realistic way which I think is relatable and is relevant to a young adult audience.”
So… is James a feminist? “Definitely. This film is definitely a feminist film as well. I would consider myself a feminist as oppression and inequality are not acceptable and never have been. This film I hope speaks to this and adds to the growing list of strong female protagonists in film, and a positive role model for young women.”
Being an actor, James says it’s also important to make sure people are portrayed accurately and not misrepresented or stereotyped, which she says can only make it easier to dehumanise others. “I think the misrepresentation of men and women in media definitely sends messages to youth of the position of men and women in society and how to think and act,” she explains. “When watching popular television and hearing language being used that sends messages of the correct and incorrect ways to be acting and performing one’s gender, it is a massive barrier. In New Zealand as well, the issues of mental illness among young boys and girls are definitely a massive barrier and an issue. The way that many young men feel as though that are unable to express themselves is extremely dangerous.”
But there’s more to James than just her role in The Changeover and her career as an actor. She’s also studying for a Bachelor of Arts in Te Reo Māori – and believes it’s of the utmost importance to preserve the native language of the original people of Aotearoa. “I chose Te Reo because there really is not enough Te Reo Māori speakers in this country,” she explains. “It’s a beautiful language and by understanding and speaking the language you get more of an insight and deeper understanding into the culture. Being Māori I felt it so important to learn the language of my people, though that should never stop anyone – no matter where they are from – from learning Te Reo Māori.”
But even without studying the language in a school, James says there are things we can all do to make sure Te Reo doesn’t die out. “By normalising the greetings and general sayings [for starters],” she explains. “By using ‘kia ora’ or ‘tēnā koe’ in everyday conversation means that it will become more ingrained. Having everybody have a go at saying Māori words, no matter how unsure you may be about pronunciation, is really important as it helps everyone improve and feel less awkward and scared about mispronunciation and more confident in the future.”
But back to The Changeover. James says that, no matter how it performs at the box office, she hopes audiences will walk away feeling empowered. “This film will (hopefully) empower and inspire young women to see that strength, confidence and assertiveness are qualities to be celebrated.”
The Changeover is now showing in cinemas nationwide.Support Villainesse