This First Nations culture-clash rom-com could become a classic

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Black Ties takes the template of two culture-crossed lovers who face familial disapproval on the road to love conquering all, but instead of fleshing it out with migrant communities struggling to maintain their identity in a new land, as these stories usually do, it reinvigorates the genre by portraying a clash of two First Nations cultures.

Kane (Mark Coles-Smith) is an Aboriginal entrepreneur, Hera (Tuakoi Ohia) a Maori high-flyer, and when they plan to marry, the would-be bride and groom seek the blessing of their respective families.

But the course of true love never did run smooth, and amid a journey of discovery that celebrates the strength of Indigenous and Maori traditions, sparks fly as the families wrestle with personal rivalries refracted through the traumatic legacy of colonisation, and a real fear of cultural loss.

The cast of larger-than-life characters creates an affectionately dysfunctional domestic milieu.

Hera’s parents Robert (Tainui Takiwaho) and Sylvia (Lana Garland) are at loggerheads: Robert moved to Australia to work for 10 years during the mining boom, becoming an absent father; while the fierce, glamorous Sylvia desperately wants her daughter to stay in New Zealand to keep her proud heritage intact.

Kane’s mother Ruth (Lisa Maza) was a member of the stolen generations and is determined no one will steal her son away, while figures on both sides offer their own unique perspective on First Nations cultures, from Hera’s trans friend Shannon (Brady Peeti) to Kane’s light-skinned half-brother Jermaine (Dion Williams).

The wedding reception in the second half turns into a madcap free-for-all – equal parts embarrassing and joyful – with tensions resolved through the serene comic presence of Jack Charles as Uncle Mick, and the youngest family member, Hera’s younger sister (Tawhingari McPherson) who is wise beyond her years.

Directed with hilarious heart by Rachael Maza, Black Ties is a rom-com that doesn’t simply entertain the audience (and the show has everything from deadly humour to a cracking three-piece band) it makes them feel like part of the family.