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Riwia Brown

Writer [Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui]

The daughter of a Pākehā diplomat and a Māori mother, Riwia Brown grew up mainly in Wellington, with side-trips to London and New Zealand's East Coast. Though she had little interest in drama at school, Brown has talked about how the children were expected to put on performances when gathered together with her father's family.

She was inspired to become a writer after the excitement of seeing her brother Apirana Taylor's play Kohanga; brother Rangimoana Taylor and sister Hania Stewart are also theatre practitioners.

Roimata (1988), a play about two sisters, one city slicker and the other a country bumpkin, was based partly on her own youth. In 1989 Brown adapted and directed Roimata for television, with a stellar cast that included Rena Owen and Ramai Hayward, a legend of early New Zealand cinema. Roimata screened as part of Māori anthology series E Tipu E Rea.

Over the next six years Brown wrote for the theatre and occasionally acted (she can be seen in 1986 road movie Mark II). A week after deciding to quit her day job to concentrate on writing, she bumped into director Lee Tamahori, who invited her to work as a project consultant on a film adaptation of Alan Duff's controversial novel Once Were Warriors.

Brown was soon enlisted to write the screenplay. The hope was that she would shift the focus of the original book from the aggressive husband Jake Heke to his wife Beth.

"I feel very connected with the film, a lot of emotional heart and soul went into it", Brown said soon after its release. She was also keen to make it clear that her political views had little in common with those of Duff. Brown writes about the film here. Her work earned her the Best Screenplay award at the 1994 New Zealand Film and Television Awards.

In 1995, Brown was one of a number of writer/directors enlisted to contribute episodes to Steve Sachs' docu-drama series True Life Stories. Each episode concentrates on revealing how a young person overcame a particular difficulty.

Brown's next film project was the interracial love story Flight of the Albatross (1996), whose budget came in at three times that of Once Were Warriors. This tale of adventure and spiritual redemption between a troubled Māori man and a German teenager was based on the book by American Deborah Savage. The film's funding and making betrayed similar multi-national complications.

Albatross was released unsuccessfully as a feature film in New Zealand, and in many overseas territories as a television series. Reviews crossed the spectrum, although the film won the prize for Best Children's Feature Film at the 1993 Berlin Children's Film Festival.

In 1997 Brown's script for Nga Wahine was one of seven chosen from 100 plus submissions for the drama series. Based on her play of the same name, and directed by Brown, the one hour drama contrasts a well-heeled lawyer (Simone Kessell) and an impoverished student (Nancy Brunning) who are both pregnant.

Since then Brown has written for supernatural series Mataku and historical drama Taonga: Treasures of our Past (2006). In 2012 Irirangi Bay screened on anthology series Atamira. Brown adapted it from her play of the same name. Irirangi Bay involves a 50s-era married couple, and a makutu laid during the New Zealand land wars.

In 2021, Brown won Best Drama Script at the NZ TV Awards alongside co-writer Kathryn Burnett, for The Tender Trap. The film tells the true story of Sharon Armstrong, a senior New Zealand public servant who fell victim to an online romance scam. 

Brown is also listed as co-writer of the little-known American feature The Legend of Johnny Lingo, (2003) a comedy fable whose impressive cast includes George Henare, Rawiri Paratene, Hori Ahipene and Sima Urale.

Profile updated on 3 March 2022  

Sources include
'Atamira'. Māori Television website. Accessed 28 May 2012
'Riwia Brown' Playmarket website. Accessed 3 March 2021