It's hard to think of a more provocative title for a documentary right now than Chinks, Coconuts And Curry-Munchers.

But it indicates that tonight's Inside New Zealand (TV3, 8.30), which surveys experiences of race and racism from Kiwis with different ethnic backgrounds, doesn't shy away from the heart of the debate.

Says comedian and Samoan-born New Zealander Oscar Kightley early in the doco: "Chinks, Curry-Munchers and Coconuts. You know they're all words that I think most New Zealanders - most honest ones - would admit to having used at one stage."


Indeed, director Libby Hakaraia says the idea for the documentary came from a conversation about what New Zealand identity is and who we are.

"We [documentary production company Kiwa] have done a lot of documentaries, like The Truth About Maori, that look at identity from a Maori angle and we thought, 'Let's look at the other peoples in this country'.

"We were throwing it around, going, 'What did you used to call Chinese people?' 'Oh, Chinks.' There were Coconuts, FOBs, Ragheads, Rastas etc. So we had to cut it back to the three Cs."

Interestingly enough, apart from older participants in the documentary, it's been her white liberal friends who have most objected to the title, she says.

Chinks, Coconuts And Curry-Munchers features a range of famous and not-so-famous talking heads, including Kightley, writer Helene Wong and playwright Jacob Rajan, offering thoughts about issues such as trying to fit in, whose country it is, who they are, where home is.

There are some cutting observations, like that from university lecturer Shudri Kothari, who suggests racism is interesting because while the influx of ethnic food has been welcomed here, some Kiwis "hate the bastards at the same time".

The documentary also uses a few on-screen statistics - such as the fact that of the 75,000 New Zealanders of Indian origin, only 6000 own dairies - to underline the flimsiness of racial stereotypes and assumptions that dog New Zealand society.

Winston Peters, who has been at his provocative worst in the past week, features in clips from speeches that are used to illustrate the heat in the issue.


Hakaraia says what stood out for her while making the documentary was the older people, whether they were Chinese or Pacific Island or Indian, who still carry the hurt of trying to assimilate, of trying to fit in and clearly not fitting in. And of their suffering at the hands of the name-calling in the documentary's title.

"But the young people surprised me. It was like, 'Bring it on. Call me whatever you like, we own those identities now'. They're proud to be 'Coconuts' or whatever.

"Going to Freemans Bay Primary School [in inner-city Auckland] was a real eyeopener, too. They are such a mixture. I couldn't believe my own eyes," she says.

"I grew up in predominantly Pakeha schools. But I stood there looking at those kids, thinking, 'God, this is New Zealand, this is the changing face'.

"And I doubt, in the future, that there is going to be that much of a problem because I see it in the kids. They are actually mixing and are much more aware of different cultures."

Let's hope that Peters and the 10 per cent of New Zealand who voted for his cynical, populist scaremongering watch tonight - and learn.