In the course of your life you will probably know, or have known somebody like Bunny King. She will be familiar to you in some way. You might have a friend who is experiencing similar struggles. Her humour and resilience might remind you of your mother, or an aunt. Or maybe you will recognise some aspect of your story, in hers. This is what hooks people and the reason why audiences have responded so strongly to The Justice of Bunny King. There is an element of Bunny in all of us.
Her character was first conceived by Gregory King in a completely different story a number of years ago and although the original outline didn't chime with me, I instantly fell in love with her joyous, gritty, underdog nature. So Greg and I outlined a new story, about a single mum with no resources but brimming with resourcefulness and hope, who could take centre stage. Not as an object of pity, but a grassroots action hero, whose superpower (and Achilles heel) is her unfaltering love and courage - which is in constant conflict with her strong sense of justice.
I made this film because there are women like Bunny everywhere in our communities. Having to do the wrong things for the right reasons - because they have no other option. This film is a love letter to them, etched into one nuggety, complex, squeegee-wielding character.
I grew up in West Auckland, where a number of my friends had parents who separated, as did my own. We were raised by our mothers and grandmothers and, when I look back now, I can see there was this expectation that these women would just hold everything together. They were expected to work, run a household and provide stable homes for their kids, when often their personal circumstances were anything but stable.
It takes a lot of resilience and self-belief to get by in these situations and when I read the news now and see the worsening housing crisis, I wonder how anyone is managing to raise a family, let alone be a single parent. Housing has become like a giant Monopoly game in this country and the Bunny Kings of this world are paying the human cost.
The script really needed heart and levity, so I approached Sophie Henderson to write the screenplay. We wanted to make sure Bunny was always buoyant, constantly on the lookout for a way through or forward, sometimes rather creatively. As a result she is at times incredibly funny, complicated, defiant and occasionally outrageous. It was important to me that we created a complex and flawed character and that we never pitied Bunny, because she doesn't pity herself.
The film is driven forward by the wit and audacity she uses to survive. Sophie really added a layer of humour to the script so Bunny really seizes the audience by the heartstrings, slips them into her shoes and makes them laugh and cry and in doing so re-writes the narrative around struggling mothers.
As Sarah Cook, our line producer, summed it up, "Not all superheroes wear capes, there's a heap of them that wear bras too". That's Bunny in a nutshell.
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In the film, Bunny is played by the brilliant Essie Davis. She absolutely shines in the role, mining every nuance and layer. In a landscape where viewers are hungry for mature, complex female characters, Essie's Bunny is unflinchingly authentic and human. Thomasin McKenzie plays Bunny's reclusive niece, Tonya. She's a different kind of survivor to Bunny providing a quiet counterpoint to the restless energy of Bunny. Together they become a double act as the film progresses. Feuding, yet holding tightly to one other as their situation unravels, confronted in the final act by a steely Trish Reihana, played by local legend Tanea Heke.
In the film, Bunny's main source of income is as a "squeegee bandit". She's dependant on arbitrary, gridlocked motorists to earn a living. It's a tough premise for anyone, but the situation doesn't exhaust Bunny in the way you might expect. She is not someone who takes a well-deserved rest or who might, understandably, not have room for complications that are not her own. She can't help but stand up for what is right, acting as mother to those in her life who need it, collecting their worries as she goes - and at great personal sacrifice. She is a survivor, shapeshifting through various situations, wearing different masks, jumping through hoops, doing whatever it takes.
While we were filming we actually discovered extras on the set who were trying to get their kids back, trying to find homes. They would realise what the film was about and say "This is me. This is my story." I hope they see the film. There were crew members too, working mums who were also trying to find affordable housing. It brought home to me the urgency of this story. There are women like Bunny up and down the country, surviving, rebuilding and getting by in any way they can.
I really hope Bunny can help other women be able to see and celebrate their own strength and resilience, even if the rest of society can't.
The Justice of Bunny King opens in cinemas nationwide on Thursday, July 29.