Nevak Rogers says she was always "aware of the fight". Her Dad was Tongan, her Mum Māori, and her uncle Will ‘Ilolahia was a founding member of activist group the Polynesian Panthers. She grew up as Nevak Ilolahia in 1970s South Auckland, the time of dawn raids and a strengthening Pacific Island and urban Māori consciousness.
“Dad's generation were asked for ID walking down the street," she says. "I was a product of that. Mum, a product of urban drift, was very conscious of retaining our links back on the East Coast, so the fight was on both sides of my whakapapa”.
When she was four, the family moved to Otara. She says she "fell into" journalism after meeting Gary Wilson, the father of a teenage friend and one of the founders of Mana magazine. Wilson persuaded Rogers to do a one-year journalism course at Manukau Institute of Technology, after which she became an intern at The NZ Herald and The Dominion. She was a print and radio journalist for five years, working for Mana magazine and its Radio NZ programme.
In 2001 Rogers relocated to Rotorua to have her first child, and alongside Glen Bates and Mike Jonathan set up Hula Haka Productions, a company focussed on Māori stories. The company's first editing suite was a walk-in wardrobe in their house; Hula Haka expanded so fast that meetings soon had to be held on the verandah.
Māori Television burst into the TV landscape in 2004 and Hula Haka were ready. Rogers came up with the concept behind Marae DIY, a bilingual production that transferred the Kiwi obsession for home renovation onto a marae setting. Rogers wanted to celebrate the experiences of being at a marae; at the last minute she stepped in as presenter. During preparations to makeover their 100th marae, Screentime purchased the series and it switched to TV3 (it now screens on both channels).
In 2007 Rogers took Marae DIY to Manutuke, one of her marae; the episode won a Qantas Media Award for Best Reality Show. Rogers also co-presented another reality TV hit, Marae Kai Masters. “Marae DIY and Marae Kai Masters were like soul food to me," she says. "Growing up, my aunties and nannies in the kitchen were my heroes, and I loved hanging out with my cousins and sharing banter with my Uncles out the back”.
In 2009 Māori TV screened Lost In Translation. The acclaimed 10-part series followed comedian Mike King on a journey to uncover stories behind Te Tiriti o Waitangi, after his realisation the document was a collection of different papers. Working on the show as a researcher and associate producer, Rogers made some discoveries. “I came out of that experience with an unexpected more positive view about the Treaty, surrounding the kaupapa of it all. We’d grown up hearing only negative stories about it, but actually reading diaries and letters from that time left me with a more balanced view of its intention”.
Rogers' first documentary was producing 2009's Skin to Skin, an adaptation of Carol Archie’s examination of Māori/Pākehā intermarriage. In 2010 she took on a project very close to her heart, fronting and co-producing Polynesian Panthers — a movement co-founded by her uncle, Will ‘Ilolohia. She travelled to the United States to interview some of the original Black Panthers. “Making that doco was special to me, it all hit home," she says. "I don’t know how life would have been different if people like my Uncle didn’t make his stand in the 1970s”.
In 2011 Rogers directed and produced Ngā Tamatoa - 40 Years On, examining that same fertile period of 1970s activism when the occupation of Bastion Point brought Māori land rights into national conversation. Featuring figures like Hone Harawira and the late Ranganui Walker, the documentary was presented by ex Ngā Tamatoa member Rawiri Paratene.
In 2016 Rogers directed and produced Through the Lens - The First 10 Years Of Māori Television. Making the documentary gave her the chance to weigh up what the channel had achieved, to celebrate the huge range of programmes it had launched and the talents it has fostered — but also examine its aims, and reinforce its kaupapa and responsibilities in regards to promoting te reo. Rogers also reassessed her own career, but when the role of Commissioner came up she admits thinking “I’d rather stab myself in the face with a blunt instrument”.
She thought again and today leads commissioning, in her role as Head of the Content Development Department for Māori Television. “It's the hardest job I’ve ever done — but it's also the most rewarding”.
The challenge is making fresh and relevant content across varied platforms on a limited budget. The likes of The Ring Inz, Game of Bros, Find Me a Māori Bride, Sidewalk Karoake and chat show All Talk with Anika Moa show Māori TV developing talent in comedy and entertainment. Scheduled for 2017 are 100 episodes of online drama Ahi Karoa, aimed at rangatahi, and feature-length drama Waru, helmed by eight Māori female directors.
In April 2018, Rogers took on another role as the TVNZ commissioning consultant for Māori and Pacific Programmes. She was set to leave her Māori Television role at the end of 2018.
Rogers served for eight years on Te Putahi Paho (the crown’s partner representing Māori stakeholder interests in Māori Television), and has been deputy chair at Ngā Aho Whakaari (Māori in Screen Production).
Rosaleen MacBrayne, 'Makeovers for marae and their kuia' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 22 March 2004
Marae DIY - Manutuke Marae (Series Three Episode) (Television Episode) Director Maramena Roderick (Hula Haka Productions, Māori Television, 2006)
Lost in Translation (Television Series) (Ponsonby Productions, Māori Television, 2009)
Unknown writer, 'TVNZ appoints Nevak Rogers as Commissioning Consultant for and Māori and Pacific Programmes' (Press release) TVNZ website. Loaded 2 March 2018. Accessed 4 April 2018