Actor digs deep for Iti's appeal

By Amelia Wade

Manu Bennett bought the painting Te Whai A Te Motu.  Pictures / Brett Phibbs
Manu Bennett bought the painting Te Whai A Te Motu. Pictures / Brett Phibbs

Manu Bennett felt compelled to support Tame Iti.

"When Tame goes to prison, it's like all Maori goes to prison, in a way."

The Spartacus actor was the highest bidder at an art auction this week to raise funds for the jailed activist's appeal against his Urewera raids convictions.

Bennett, 42, paid $10,400 for a work by Shane Cotton and also bought Iti's artwork, Te Whai A Te Motu, painted in Waikeria Prison.

"My gut feeling was that it was just the right thing to do, to support him just by being a Maori regardless of the need to research facts and what not," Bennett said.

The actor was raised in Australia but has strong New Zealand roots through his father's side. One of his uncles was Anglican Bishop Manu-huia Bennett and another was Sir Charles Bennett, commanding officer of the 28th Maori Battalion.

In the summer of 1995, he read an article in a Sydney newspaper about the Treaty of Waitangi and was spurred to come to New Zealand to learn who he was.

During that visit, he came across a van covered in slogans and signage - it was Tame Iti at the Treaty Grounds.

Bennett met Iti and spoke to him about his ancestry.

"He was extremely generous to me, given what he had on his plate at that time to do. He listened, was very gentle and kind to me ... I saw him give a speech and it was electric, but at the same time it was this man with such a powerful and I guess militant voice speaking in his perspective," Bennett told the Weekend Herald.

He ran into Iti again in 1997 while visiting family in Hastings. Iti really made an impression on him.

Then as news broke of the arrests in the Urewera raids in 2007, Bennett followed the story closely.

"When I heard the word 'terrorism' used in the same sentence as 'Maori', one of the very first things I thought was, 'What would my uncles think of that?'," he said.

"When terrorism was brought into it, it was a shadow cast upon New Zealand and I believe that everybody believes that was just a horrible term to use. And to watch the trial going on, it was like, 'At this point it's going to be who gives'."

"It's something that I believe is a necessary course of action - it helps to sometimes have a fight."

Bennett is busy filming Spartacus and will today fly to Wellington for The Hobbit production.

- NZ Herald

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