Collection

Pioneering Women

Curated by NZ On Screen team

This collection celebrates women and feminism in New Zealand — the first country in the world to give all women the vote. We shine the light on a line of female achievers: suffrage pioneers, educators, unionists, politicians, writers, musicians, mothers and feminist warriors — from Kate Sheppard to Sonja Davies to Shona Laing. In her backgrounder, TV veteran and journalism tutor Allison Webber writes how the collection helps us understand and honour our past, asks why feminism gets a bad rap, and considers the challenges faced by feminism in connecting past and present.

What Really Happened - Votes for Women

Television, 2012 (Full Length)

In September 1893 New Zealand became the first country to grant all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This fly on the wall docudrama reimagines this major achievement, following Kate Sheppard (played by Sara Wiseman) throughout the final push of her campaign. The 70-minute TV movie follows the template set by director Peter Burger and writer Gavin Strawhan in their 2011 docudrama on the Treaty of Waitangi, with key characters directly addressing their 21st century audience. At the 2012 NZ TV awards, Wiseman won for Best Performance by an Actress.

Inquiry - Nothing Venture, Nothing Gain

Television, 1974 (Full Length Episode)

This edition of the 1970s current affairs show sees reporter Joe Coté investigating women in politics. A potted history of the trailblazers — from suffragist Kate Sheppard to Māori MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan (first to have a baby while in office) — leads to wide-ranging conversations with contemporary women in politics. Future Christchurch mayor Vicki Buck (here a 19-year-old council candidate) and others from across the spectrum, talk about ongoing struggles for equality: education, empowerment, abortion, childcare support, and the ‘old boys’ network.

Votes for the Girls

Television, 1994 (Full Length)

This documentary was made to mark the centenary of New Zealand women winning the right to vote, on 19 September 1893. It traces the history of Aotearoa’s world-leading suffrage movement, and interviews contemporary women in politics. They chart how far things have come, and reflect on the enduring double standards that women still face. Interviewees include Helen Clark (then leader of the Labour Party), Jenny Shipley, Dame Cath Tizard, Wellington Mayor Fran Wilde and visiting President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, plus mothers and high school students. 

Women in the House

Web, 2018 (Full Length)

This Vice documentary, made as part of its women's suffrage series, asks four past and present politicians — Golriz Ghahraman, Paula Bennett, Louisa Wall and former Prime Minister Helen Clark — about their experience of being a female MP in Aotearoa. It's a mixed picture. Clark celebrates the fact that issues facing half the population are now being addressed by a more equal Parliament, but Ghahraman, whose family fled Iran for New Zealand, regularly receives abusive communications. While each politician responds differently, they all share strong personal beliefs.

Funny Girls - NZ Suffragette Special

Television, 2018 (Full Length Episode)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shows off her comedy prowess in this Funny Girls special, celebrating 125 years of Kiwi women attaining the right to vote. Ardern corrects the blatant lies of "Pauline the producer" (Jackie van Beek), and puts up with Pauline kissing her. This episode is a who's who of female Kiwi comedians, featuring (for the first time) live stand-up alongside the sketches — including Justine Smith and Billy T winners Melanie Bracewell and Angella Dravid. The Suffragette Special followed series three. 

Looking at New Zealand - Beauty Queens

Television, 1969 (Full Length Episode)

Looking at New Zealand was an early NZBC “pictorial magazine” show which explored “New Zealand’s backyard”. Produced by Conon Fraser, it was a staple of Sunday night 60s TV. In this edition the narrator introduces NZ’s unheralded scenic wonder: “its girls”, as he meets some of Miss New Zealand’s 1969 contestants. The women talk about their interests (“I adore frilly nighties”) and occupations (typist) in a style that is more Stepford Wives than Kate Sheppard. Miss Auckland Carole Robinson (not seen here), would go on to win Miss Photogenic at that year’s Miss Universe pageant.

Holiday for Susan

Short Film, 1962 (Full Length)

Directed by David Fowler for the National Film Unit, tourism promo Holiday For Susan enthusiastically follows 22-year-old Aussie Susan's tour of Godzone with Kiwi lass Lorraine Clark. En route, Susan finds a husband in Auckland's David Thomas. Abounding with shots of scenic wonder (cleverly integrated with signs of the country's industrial progress), and Susan's legs (many aspects of the film would have had Kate Sheppard rolling in her grave), the film presents a jaunty portrait of 60s NZ as a destination for young, well-to-do, globetrotters.

Esther Stephens

Actor

Having grown up in a musical family, Esther Stephens found it hard to decide between music or acting. So she did both. After training in performing and screen arts, she won an ongoing role as fashionista Olivia Duff in Go Girls. Since then, Stephens has had major parts in WWI drama When We Go to War and Westside. On stage, she won acclaim as suffragette Kate Sheppard in musical That Bloody Woman.

Sara Wiseman

Actor

Former stuntwoman Sara Wiseman went directly from performing arts school to acting in crime series Street Legal. She went on to star as Dr Nicky Somerville in 60 episodes of the popular Mercy Peak. On the big screen, Wiseman has starred in 2005 psychological thriller Luella Miller, taken the title role in Jinx Sister, and won awards for her parts in movie Matariki and TV's What Really Happened - Votes for Women.