A timely tale for Race Relations Day (21 March), Broken Barrier is the romantic story of Tom Sullivan, a young journalist, and Rawi, the Maori girl he meets and falls in love with. This is 1950s New Zealand so the couple face numerous challenges, including a raging forest fire in the stirring climax, as they fight family and social expectations in order to be together.
This New Zealand classic was one of only three feature films made between 1940 (when Rewi's Last Stand was released) and the 1970s. All three were made by John O'Shea for Pacific Films.
"Tom Sullivan, a young Pakeha journalist researching a series of exploitative, tabloid articles on “the” Maori people becomes a casual labourer on a Mahia Peninsular farm. The emotional liaison he forms with Rawi, a young Maori woman exposes the racism engendered by the particular social attitudes and expectations of that time. Where Broken Barrier looks toward the romantic integration of “light and dark” as a resolution of the personal and political issues of Maori/Pakeha relationships, this deceptively naive response need not be dismissed as being dated and one-dimensional. Even if the contemporary assertion of Maori aspiration and search for meaningful self-determination seems justly strident, Broken Barrier’s significance should be regarded in historical context. For in its time Broken Barrier did represent a remarkable achievement in the consciousness raising of a New Zealand public that widely refused to acknowledge the existence of racial inequity, discrimination and denial. Because, as Broken Barrier gently describes, with characteristic humour, humanity and art, “he iwi kotahi tatou” – in those days we certainly were not." — Cushla Parakowhai, The New Zealand Film Archive.