To celebrate 125 years of women's suffrage, we're celebrating New Zealand women in film, television and music and the wāhine toa who have inspired them.

Sara Wiseman, actor

Sara Wiseman says Miranda Harcourt is an
Sara Wiseman says Miranda Harcourt is an "icon". Photos / supplied

It's hard to narrow it down to just one legend, but the woman who springs to mind is my mate, Miranda Harcourt. I cannot recall the day we met, perhaps because she was an icon before I knew her, but I was directed by her in a play with Elizabeth McRae for the ATC called Collected Stories when I was not long out of drama school. Since then she has gifted so much of her time to me, as a director, mentor, adviser, script editor, coach and friend. All the while being a magnificent actor, co-director, writer, mother, wife, daughter, feminist, activist, promoter of the arts, path-maker and acting coach to the stars.

Danielle Cormack, actor

Danielle Cormack: Malala Yousafzai is
Danielle Cormack: Malala Yousafzai is "a true modern trailblazer". Photos / supplied, Getty Images

I was incredibly moved by Malala Yousafzai after she survived an assassination attempt, at the tender age of 15, for standing up for what she believes in. The fact that she still advocates for education and equality for girls and young women makes her a true modern trailblazer. To have endured an experience that led her to an international stage so she can continue her fight publicly for peace and education should motivate us all to continue that legacy. Malala's bravery and compassion shows me there is no excuse not to stand up for what is right for humankind.

Kanoa Lloyd

Kanoa Lloyd:
Kanoa Lloyd: "The curves of Whina Cooper's shoulders were wrapped around my childhood." Photos / supplied

I feel like the curves of Whina Cooper's shoulders were wrapped around my childhood. That iconic image of her mid-hikoi, holding her moko's hand, printed in black and white and pinned with thumbtacks next to the front door of our house. One corner was faded where the sun hit it. But she watched over our daily comings and goings - checking to make sure we'd taken our shoes off before we went any further.

Whina Cooper! My mum and dad would tell me stories about how special she was. I thought she was my nanny. And when I got to school, I learned that, in a way she was was everyone's nanny. She spent her life standing up, marching for Māori, for Māori women.

Hannah Marshall, actor & film-maker

Hannah Marshall:
Hannah Marshall: "(Jane Campion's) characters, particularly the female ones, are complex, filled with soul and depth." Photos / supplied, Mark Mitchell

I remember watching The Piano when I was young, and being completely blown away by everything about it. Even before I understood what a director or screenwriter did, the impact that film had on me and, in fact, the world, was magical. Then I learned a woman made it and she was a Kiwi. Jane Campion is everything that sums up a trailblazer – she defied the odds and broke boundaries before women were really given a platform. Her voice is powerful, unique and bold and it speaks to people across the globe. Her characters, particularly the female ones, are complex, filled with soul and depth. She is a true visionary and through her art she inspires me to be fearless, to look at the world - and write it - in a different way.

Madeleine Sami, actor, comedian, director

Madeleine Sami says Tina Fey
Madeleine Sami says Tina Fey "changed the landscape of American comedy". Photos / supplied

In terms of comedy and comedy writing, the person who comes to mind is Tina Fey. What I appreciate about her is her brand of biting commentary. There's a lot of feminist and subversive stuff, and a lot of very woke comedy but presented in a palatable way for a mainstream audience.


She changed the landscape of American comedy and therefore female comedy in general, by really putting women's voices at the forefront. She gave women a strong presence that I feel has trickled down into a lot of other comedy. I think she was also the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live, which is a pretty big deal. It's amazing she became head writer, as that show's always been a bit of a dude-fest.

But any trailblazing woman I'm with. I take inspiration from any women doing anything. Love 'em!

Urzila Carlson, comedian

Urzila Carlson says Irene Pink is her
Urzila Carlson says Irene Pink is her "straight wife". Photos / supplied

My friend Irene Pink. She's a comedian. I always say she's my straight wife. If I need anything, from picking an outfit for a special event or just advice on how to approach a situation, I know I can call her. Irene hosted the second-ever show that I did. When I started, she said, "It's a wild industry, and if you ever need any help, you can give me a call." And she has been steadfast in that. She's so positive, and if I think that something is too much, she manages to talk me down from a ledge. When you think, "Oh my God, I don't even know where to begin," she's like Siri in [Google] Maps. She goes, "All right, let's just re-route this, let's just calm it down for a second."

Kimbra, singer

Kimbra says she thinks of Helen Keller
Kimbra says she thinks of Helen Keller "when I am feeling limited by my body, skills, or mind". Photos / supplied, Getty Images

Helen Keller, as an author, activist and dreamer. I first came across her writings when I picked up Light in My Darkness. I was floored by her ability to transcend her limitations and even use them to lead her deeper into her perception of the spiritual realm. I think of her often when I am feeling limited by my body, skills, or mind.

Helen Keller was a woman with all the odds against her, yet she moved beyond them and accepted help from others to prove many wrong about what she could achieve in her lifetime. Rather than seeing her as a person with a disability, I see her as someone with profound abilities of perception that we are often neglect because of our daily distractions through the familiar senses of sound and sight. To me, she is a feat of the human spirit and a woman who created a life that inspired many.

Aaradhna, singer

Aaradhna says Lauryn Hill's
Aaradhna says Lauryn Hill's "intelligence shines through her rhymes". Photos / supplied, Getty Images

I hate to just choose one lady, because I love so many, but if it there's one for me, it's Lauryn Hill. I first came across her and her music at the age of 11 or 12, and that was around the same time the movie Sister Act 2 came out. After listening to her sing on that film, her voice blew me away as I felt an instant connection to the power of her vocals. That film continued to be an all-time favourite of mine, which I've probably watched around 50 times. This also led to me buying the Fugees album, where her voice continued to be the focal point of that group. To me, she was the leader. Her intelligence shines through her rhymes and her raspy, soulful voice always got me; she's an amazing writer - and not to mention her unique beauty. She's a strong and confident family woman who's's still performing to this day and I admire that. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill is a timeless classic. You can play it now and it still bangs.

Jackie van Beek, actor and film-maker

Jackie Van Beek calls Niki Caro a
Jackie Van Beek calls Niki Caro a "creative force". Photos / supplied

Niki Caro would have to be my number one. I remember seeing Whale Rider at the Rotterdam Film Festival. It was met with a standing ovation and thunderous applause. I remember standing in the crowd, feeling so in awe of her talent and so proud to be Kiwi. Years later she mentored me through the post-production of my first feature film. She is such a creative force - smart, positive, energetic and constantly striving for excellence.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand, actor

Jennifer Ward-Lealand says Pānia Papa
Jennifer Ward-Lealand says Pānia Papa "inspires me to be a better speaker" of te reo Māori. Photos / supplied

I first met Pānia Papa (Ngāti Koroki-Kahukura) in 2011 when I went to my first Kura Reo - a five-day immersion te reo Māori language school under the auspices of Ngāti Raukawa. I really had no business being there as I was woefully unprepared for the level of the reo being spoken. Heoi, tuwhitia te hopo! (Feel the fear and do it anyway.) Along with that I was unaware of her reputation as a gifted teacher but I could see immediately that Pānia was born to teach and possessed an innate ability to take her students to the next level. The quality of her reo and her deep knowledge of karanga and waiata have been so inspiring to this wahine Pākehā. It's no wonder that among the many positions she holds, she was selected as a board member of Te Mātāwai.

I remember one time watching her programme Ako and suddenly realising I could understand most of what was being said. This was because of the clarity of her reo and her terrific teaching skills. She is the BEST at creating fun games in class so we were learning and laughing at the same time. I feel privileged and extremely lucky to have been one of her students. She inspires me to be a better speaker of this beautiful language.

Nō reira, e te mumu reo, e Pānia, e rere ana aku mihi nui ki a koe.

Roseanne Liang, filmmaker

Roseanne Liang honours Hanelle Harris (centre) and Kerry Warkia as
Roseanne Liang honours Hanelle Harris (centre) and Kerry Warkia as "storytellers who were sick of other people telling their stories". Photos / supplied

Kerry Warkia (producer of Waru) and Hanelle Harris (actor, director, writer of Baby Mama's Club). Both Kerry and Hanelle are storytellers who were sick of other people telling their stories, or portraying people like them in non-authentic ways. As a Kiwi-Chinese woman, I really responded to that staunchness and this idea that we can't complain about representation onscreen unless we put our own work on the line and take the reins to the means of production. Both Waru and Baby Mama's Club broke further ground for Maori representation, in very different and important ways. Myriad representation is so important for our diverse country.

They inspire me with their work ethic, tireless commitment to craft and their incorrigible, inveterate activism. They are both mums, like me. I have borrowed more than a few parenting tips from them. As friends and colleagues they have taught me so much about how to approach my work - they are cheerleaders when I need it, and call me out when I need that too. They are not too proud to admit mistakes and always strive to do - and be - better. For me, it doesn't get more inspiring than that.

Ladi6, singer

Ladi6 says her mum taught her
Ladi6 says her mum taught her "how to fearlessly take an idea and make it my job". Photo / supplied

My mum has single-handedly been the biggest trailblazing business influence in my life. She became a mum at 17 and had six kids, and in between she's done all kinds of jobs from wrapping peanut slabs at Heards chocolate factory to youth work. She spearheaded community and development projects and founded businesses constantly, she even taught my friends and me how to set up a company, hold meetings and apply for funding. She taught me how to fearlessly take an idea - particularly one that's never been done before - and make it my job. Without her influence I'm not sure I would have had the courage, bravery or know-how to even begin to dream of a life as Ladi6.