Samoan stars cast in filming of The Panthers

Two Hollywood actors with Samoan heritage have been cast in a film that is based on the life story of the Polynesian Panthers, a group formed in New Zealand in the 1970s that is credited with fighting racism against Pacific people.

The New Zealand Herald reports that Frankie Adams and Beulah Koale – who are former Shortland Street alumni and also starred in Samoan drama One Thousand Ropes – are among the star cast of the filming of The Panthers.

The pair reportedly attended the premiere of One Thousand Ropes together in Apia, Samoa in 2017 with the New Zealand Herald adding that Ms Adams has found international fame in sci-fi series The Expanse, and Koale in Hawaii Five-0

According to the New Zealand Herald, the producers are thrilled to have the duo as part of the cast, which stars young actor Dimitrius Koloamatangi as Will 'Ilolahia, the black sheep of his noble Tongan family and "The Professor" of the Ponsonby streets in the mid-70s.

“'Illolahia's parents' generation were welcomed to NZ with open arms during the boom of the 50s, when additional workers were needed,” reports New Zealand Herald.

“But when the economy tightens up in the shadow of a global oil crisis, and with unemployment on the rise, the country begins turning in on itself and 'Ilolahia wants change. He forms the rebel-activist group, the Polynesian Panthers.

“He and his crew learn to fight with their minds as well as their fists, with their street gang turning into political revolutionaries fighting racial discrimination sweeping New Zealand during the era.

“The mini-series charts the rise to power of Sir Robert Muldoon, who is being played by acting veteran Roy Billing, who appeared in the Aussie historical crime series Underbelly and is great casting by producers.”

The Polynesian Panthers celebrated its 45th anniversary in June 2016 with the unveiling of a plaque in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby according to Radio New Zealand. 

The Polynesian Panthers was established in Auckland in June 1971 by six young Pacific Island men: Fred Schmidt, Nooroa Teavae, Paul Dapp, Vaughan Sanft, Eddie Williams and Will 'Ilolahia.

Radio New Zealand reported in 2016 that Black Panthers’ work – political activism, running food co-ops and homework centres, advocating for tenants and promoting Pacific languages – has been credited as a forerunner for much modern-day community activism.

Mr 'Ilolahia, a founder of the Waiata Artist Trust and the chair of the Pacific Island Media Association, reportedly said the group was modelled on America’s prominent civil rights movement, the Black Panther Party.

He had read the book Seize the Time by Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale and seen similarities to what was happening in New Zealand, he said.

"So that was the reason we set up. We had a mixture of ex-gang members and university students and what not," he said.

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