Woman slams 'negligent' TV2 documentary A Woman's Place

A woman with family ties to the controversial Gloriavale community has spoken out about a TV2 documentary she calls "exploitative and negligent".

In an opinion piece written for The Phantograph Punch, Melissa Harrison said the "irresponsibly soft" doco glossed over the problems residents and ex-residents of Gloriavale had with the South Island religious community.

Gloriavale: A Woman's Place screened on TV2 last month, the third instalment of the series that began in 2014 and is created by Amanda Evans and Ivars Berzins. It has received a total of $459,033 in funding from NZ on Air.

A Woman's Place showed the "openly submissive" women of Gloriavale carrying out daily tasks like washing and cooking, while men did building and labouring, in a light hearted way.

It became one of the year's highest rating shows on TV2 and sparked plenty of social media attention - including a 'What's Your Gloriavale Name?' generator shared widely on Facebook.

Read more: Inside Gloriavale: What life is like for female residents

Harrison, who said her parents left Gloriavale before she was born, said the show glossed over some of the key problems residents faced - especially when they left the community.

"We have witnessed the pain of our parents being wholly rejected by their families, the suffering of cousins growing up without the love of their mother, the mental illness that has crept into manipulated and traumatised psyches, and the ongoing psychological effects of sexual abuse," Harrison wrote.

The documentary presented Gloriavale with "no critical engagement, no history, no varied perspectives," instead favouring "LOLs in a steady stream of sound bites and sight gags," she said.

In a previous interview with the Herald, Evans and Berzins said their documentaries on Gloriavale were designed to create a discussion piece, rather than forcing their own opinions on viewers and the community.

"We very much come from the old school of shooting things and letting the audience make up their own minds of what they think. You always have your own personal opinions but we try to set them aside as much as possible," said Evans.

Gloriavale documentary makers Amanda Evans and Ivars Berzins.
Gloriavale documentary makers Amanda Evans and Ivars Berzins.

Berzins: "We ... go down and film and create a doco and create a discussion piece for people to make their own opinion ... I try not to have opinions. The way I best do my job is to observe and record by being as open to other people's way of thinking as I can."

But Harrison said the documentary turned Gloriavale into "a spectacle, ripe to be exploited for entertainment".

"It's not fictional. They are real lives, and they're not all that funny ... let's not mindlessly and uncritically gather around our TV screens for a chuckle at Gloriavale as pop-culture phenomenon," she said.

Read Amanda Evans' response to Harrison's piece here.

• Read Harrison's full piece on The Phantograph Punch here.

- NZ Herald

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