Pacific writers leak own TV series online in protest

The writers of Sis are calling out the film and TV industry for systemic bias, racism and discrimination

20th October, 2022

Khalia Strong

Pacific writers leak own TV series online in protest


​The writers of a Pacific TV show have leaked their show online in protest, accusing broadcasting decision makers of racism and keeping them "in the dark".

The SIS creators dropped their full season online before the scheduled air date earlier this week.

Showrunner Hanell Harris says they felt kept out of the loop about when the show was to air, and who would be able to view it for free. 

“We refuse to be complicit in a system that forces us to go against our values. In protest of our screen sector here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we are leaking SIS ourselves. 

“We understand there may be legal and financial consequences to this, but we give the show back to you, the people, free of charge to access around the world.”

The SIS TV series, a six-part sketch show that addresses weighty cultural issues "with unique, comedic aplomb", was funded $2.097 million dollars by New Zealand on Air for six 22 minute episodes.

Harris says they were shocked to learn people might have to pay to watch it overseas. 

“When we did the figures, the money that was going to be made off of our show was astronomical, and certainly not money that we are going to be profiting off at all.”

Sky TV holds the New Zealand broadcasting rights for the show, and a spokesperson says it’s up to the producers to negotiate international rights.

“As is standard practice, New Zealand on Air funding was conditional on the content being made freely available to the public of New Zealand.

“The Comedy Central New Zealand channel will launch SIS on the 15th November, before it goes onto Sky’s free-to-air Prime channel and Neon streaming service. 

“SIS will remain available and free to view on the Comedy Central NZ website throughout this time.”

Is the Pacific TV industry getting the support it needs? 

Producer and scriptwriter Maiya T says it’s ironic the show’s storyline, based on a group of Polynesian writers who create a comedy show with their racist boss, has come to mirror real life.

“We hoped that the show would speak for itself when it came out, but for us to stay silent and being treated the same way we show in the show, would make us hypocrites.

“So we need to be loud, especially as Pacific women. We have a culture of keeping quiet and not rocking the boat and being the good little brown girl, and so if this is the world we have to live in, then why shouldn’t we call for change?”

The writers have launched a petition and open letter calling for equity in New Zealand’s screen sector, accusing the industry of continued exploitation and harm of Pacific Island and minority screen practitioners. 

Harris, who has been behind various screen projects, says there needs to be more Pacific representation at the decision-making table, and support structures for screenwriters. 

“The type of feedback we’ve received about our work from funders and assessors has been, for lack of a better word, racist.

“They’ve said ‘we don’t find these characters relatable, they’re boring, and we don’t know that an audience would engage’, that came from a funding assessor on Baby Mama’s Club after it had gone viral.”

​A Sky TV spokesperson rejects the allegations of racism. 

“We strive to support and empower the independent producers we work with, not only to deliver superb local content but to also ensure the wellbeing of content creators.

“We stand firmly against any racism, discrimination, sexual abuse and bullying in our sector and our Sky Originals team is personally driven to enhance diversity, safety and inclusion in our work.”

Nurturting more Pacific content on our screens

Sunpix managing director Taualeo’o Stephen Stehlin says it's vital Pacific stories are being told by Pasifika, for-Pasifika, and has recommended this in the Moana Strategy presented to NZ on Air.

The Māori screen industry has a representative body in Ngā Aho Whakaari, but Taualeo’o says there’s nothing similar for the Pacific screen industry.

“We should have that but we don’t at the moment, because we’re so small.”

He is also the executive director of Tagata Pasifika, and feels a duty to keep it accessible to Pacific audiences globally, beyond what’s required by NZ on Air. 

“We have to make the programme available to any national broadcaster in the country, but we do anyway. 

“I wouldn’t want to see commercialisation of any of our shows, because it’s already been paid for by the New Zealand taxpayer.”

NZ on Air spokesperson Allanah Kalafatelis says they’ve had no direct contact from the producers of SIS about their concerns, but says a producer, as the owner of the funded IP, can enter and negotiate their own sales and distribution deals with overseas platforms. 

“These platforms generally purchase the content as an acquisition deal, rather than as part of a profit-share arrangement. NZ On Air generally receives 25% of the revenue from these sales which is reinvested in content.”

Kalafaelis says the situation with the leaked episodes is "unique" and they will be working through the implications with the relevant parties.