A medicine woman – a giver of life – is asked to hide a secret which may protect one life but which will destroy another.
White Lies is about the nature of identity: those who deny it and those who strive to protect it. Paraiti (Whirimako Black) is a medicine woman. She is the healer and midwife of her rural, tribal people – she believes in life. But new laws are in force prohibiting unlicensed healers. On a rare trip to the city, she is approached by Maraea (Rachel House), the servant of a wealthy woman, Rebecca (Antonia Prebble), who seeks her knowledge and assistance in order to hide a secret which could destroy Rebecca’s position in European settler society. If the secret is uncovered a life may be lost, but hiding it may also have fatal consequences. So Paraiti, Maraea and Rebecca become players in a head-on clash of beliefs, deception and ultimate salvation.
Late 19th century, Te Urewera, New Zealand: A young Māori girl, Paraiti, is forced to watch as her father is murdered by European soldiers and her village is burnt. The experience leaves her scarred inside and out – a slash across the face has left her permanently disfigured.
Many years have passed. Paraiti lives a nomadic life. Her only companions are now just a dog and a white horse. Steeped in traditional beliefs and distrusting of the Pākēhā (European settlers), she uses the old ways to heal the sick and teach the children of Te Urewera. However, while she is quietly celebrated within her community, the art of traditional healing has been made illegal and the consequences are dire if Paraiti is caught.© 2013 South Pacific Pictures Ltd 8
While in town one day, Paraiti is approached by Maraea, a servant, who begs the medicine woman to tend to her mistress. Rebecca Vickers is beautiful, arrogant and deathly pale. With her pregnancy well-advanced, she asks Paraiti to rid her of the child before her husband returns from a trip abroad. Maraea adds that if the husband learns of his wife’s pregnancy he will kill her. Disgusted, Paraiti leaves, telling the pair that healing is about giving life, not taking it away.
Soon after, staff at the local hospital prevent Paraiti from providing a young pregnant Māori woman who she knows, with the medicine she needs. Paraiti witnesses the subsequent death of both the girl, her baby and the breaking of tapu (sacredness) – this sends her into the depths of despair and the load she carries suddenly becomes too heavy. Paraiti returns back to the town to Rebecca and tells her she has changed her mind and is willing to treat her.
During her stay at the Vickers’ estate Paraiti becomes increasingly annoyed with the servant Maraea – why is she, another Māori woman who has also suffered loss, insistent on disregarding her culture? Why does Maraea want so much to be like a white person? As Paraiti continues to ignore the rules of the house, firmly adhering to her own traditions, the tension between the pair grows. As Paraiti continues to treat Rebecca, she discovers a shocking revelation and the three women become players in a head-on clash of beliefs, deception and ultimate salvation.