Ramai Hayward is acknowledged as a prolific and pioneering filmmaker who shot, directed, produced and scripted films at a time when men usually took most of the key roles.
After starring in 1940 classic Rewi's Last Stand, she became the first Māori cinematographer. When Hayward and her husband Rudall Hayward went to England soon after, she was one of the only women in the UK working behind the camera. The pair also made films in New Zealand and Australia and in the 50s filmed in communist China, at a time when few foriegn filmmakers were allowed in the country.
Later Ramai became a kuia (elder) for the NZ Film Commission, while her acting roles included playing mother to Billy T James in one of his final screen projects.
Also known as Ramai Te Miha, Patricia Rongomaitara Te Miha and Patricia Miller, Ramai was born in the Wairarapa on 11 November 1916. Her Māori mother Roihi came from the prominent Te Miha family, while her father Fred Mawhinney was of Irish descent. "People called her 'the princess' — she had that quality," Ramai said of her mother.
The eldest sibling in a family of seven, Ramai fell in love with movies around age 10 — "my destiny" — after witnessing hearthrob Rudolph Valentino in silent hit The Son of The Sheik. Ramai's father worked as a projectionist in Featherston, before dying in Europe during World War I while Ramai was still a baby.
In 1920 Ramai’s mother married South Islander James Miller. Ramai argued that growing up, her life "was pretty well balanced between Māori and Pākehā". Much of her upbringing was spent with a Māori grandmother in the Wairarapa, "speaking only Māori". She had fond memories of eeling and fishing (she later included scenes of family members eeling in film Eel History Was a Mystery). At Auckland’s Queen Victoria College for Māori Girls, she did taha Māori and acted in The Merchant of Venice.
After her mother's passing in 1935, Ramai moved to Wellington to stay with an Aunt. She got a job as an apprentice to French photographer Henri Harrison, and learnt everything from lighting to darkroom procedures. Within two years she had set up Patricia Miller Studios on Auckland's North Shore. New Zealand’s first professional Māori photographer, she soon had a staff of eight.
Around 1937 Ramai met prolific, now legendary filmmaker Rudall Hayward, who was arranging to direct an ambitious sound remake of his second silent movie, Rewi’s Last Stand. Ramai impressed Hayward. He cast her to play the film’s striking Māori heroine Ariana, who falls in love with a soldier during the New Zealand Wars. She also designed publicity posters for the movie. While credited as Ramai Te Miha on the poster, Ramai continued to run two photographic studios under the name Patricia Miller.
Ramai and Rudall married in 1943; in 1946 the photographic studios were sold to finance a move to England, where the couple spent three years. Rudall’s specially-made sound camera helped win the couple freelance work making newsreels, and Ramai learnt to operate camera and sound equipment.
Some say she was the only professional camerawoman working in England at that time (as would be the case back in New Zealand). The couple's newsreels included interviews with Indian PM Pandit Nehru and champion US boxer Joe Louis. The couple also collaborated on a film about race relations, The World Is Turning Towards The Coloured People.
Ramai later told the Wairarapa Times-Age: "I used to cart the equipment, I mean I was 17 years younger than Rudall, and toward the end I also at times had to carry him." Argues author Deborah Shepard: “Ramai also ensured that Hayward Films represented Māori issues in a positive light at a time when the National Film Unit was patronising in its treatment and few other film-makers were interested in the subject.”
Rudall and Ramai would make documentaries, educational and travel films in five countries, including Australia and Albania. Their footage of Opo the dolphin sold around the world, while the "beautiful" imagery of 1961 short Song of the Wanganui helped it become one of Ramai's favourites.
In 1957 they were in China, making the first English-language films shot there since 1949, when Communist rule had begun. Dressed in a piupiu, she placed a Māori feather cloak on the shoulders of Chairman Mao, a gift from the fifth Māori King. The moment was recorded for their film Inside Red China; the cloak is now held at Te Papa.
Ramai also wrote, directed and helped shoot Children in China, the first of around 12 children’s educational films she initiated and commanded. Made for the National Film Library over a period of 15 years, they included the popular Eel History Was a Mystery and The Arts and Crafts of Māori Children.
In 1972, Ramai and Rudall wrote, directed and produced their last feature film, To Love a Maori. New Zealand’s first local movie to be shot in colour, it aimed to highlight the complexities of Māori urban migration, and social problems of the day. The low-budget romance originated from pre-employment courses Ramai had taught for young Māori, recently arrived in Auckland. She also had a small acting role.
With Rudall's health worsening, Ramai took on even more, including short film Matenga - Māori Choreographer and a lead role in an adaptation of Katherine Mansfield's The Doll's House. Contemporary press articles still tended to concentrate on Rudall, who appears to have made only occasional mentions to the press of either Ramai or his first wife Hilda.
While touring To Love a Māori after Rudall's death in 1974, Ramai's role in the couple's filmmaking partnership gradually began winning more media attention. Since then writer Deborah Shepard has gone further than anyone in investigating the complications of the Hayward’s close creative relationship, and sometimes one-sided screen credits. In book Between the Lives, Shepard sifts through at-times conflicting evidence, noting that while Rudall often made Hayward Film Productions sound like a one-man band, the logo that Ramai designed for the company sends a message that she had a big part to play.
Ramai summed up a dramatic life in 1989, when Koha devoted this special episode to her. "It costs a lot of money to make films, and it kept us poor. It kept us happy because it was an adventure all the time. But when he died, it wasn’t the same."
Ramai continued to make occasional on-screen appearances, including this Koha documentary on Māori film, acting in Riwia Brown’s screen directing debut Roimata, and playing Billy T’s domineering mother in the sitcom version of The Billy T James Show.
Off-screen she became a committed advocate of varied issues relating to Māori welfare. A member of the Māori Woman’s Welfare League and Māori artists and writers organisation Ngā Puna Waihanga, she told a journalist of having refused a damehood after taking part in five years of protests, over Government plans to sell Cape Palliser Lighthouse and surrounding lands to overseas buyers. In 1994 she was presented with a Ngā Tohu a tā Kingi Ihaka award for her contributions to Māori culture, by Te Waka Toi, the Māori Arts Board of Creative New Zealand. She was also a patron of organisation Women in Film and Television.
On the centenary of Rudall’s birth in 2000, Ramai gifted a major collection of the couple's films to the New Zealand Film Archive (now Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision).
Ramai Hayward passed away on 3 July 2014. She was 98. Moe mai e te rangatira, moe mai.
Ramai Hayward, 'Reflections from Ramai' - Mana magazine, December/January 2001, page 74
Deborah Shepard, 'Shadow Play - The film-making partnership of Rudall & Ramai Hayward' in Between the Lives - Partners in Art. Editor Deborah Shepard (Auckland University Press, 2005)
Jacqueline Amoamo, 'A Creative Life - Ramai Hayward' in Standing in the Sunshine - A History of New Zealand Women Since they Won the Vote Editor Sandra Coney (Auckland: Viking/Penguin Books, 1993) page 23
Nathan Crombie, 'Long service to TV, films rewarded' (Interview) – Wairarapa Times-Age, 5 January 2006
Robin Lenman (Editor), The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (London: Oxford University Press, 2005)
Tamara Martyn, 'New Zealander Ramai Hayward' (Interview) - Pacific Way, December 1993, page 21
Hamish Rutherford, 'Journey home for Mao's Maori cloak' Stuff website. Loaded 11 April 2013. Accessed 14 July 2014
Deborah Shepard, Reframing Women - A History of New Zealand film (Auckland:HarperCollinsPublishers, 2000)
'Major NZ Film Legacy to be deposited' (Press Release) The Film Archive website. 5 July 2000. Accessed 14 July 2014
NZ Film Archive online catalogue. The Film Archive website. Accessed July 2010