Meet Ngaire Fuata
Girl bosses who brunch is a series which seeks to celebrate the achievements of incredible Pacific women. All of my chats with the various girl bosses take place in a café and we discuss anything and everything ranging from their journey to success to how many people they pashed on the weekend (jokes, kind of). It is my hope that in sharing stories about successful women, this will inspire others to do better and be better.
Interviewing someone who has not only worked with but also mentored, some of the best journalists in the country, was incredibly exciting. But also, DAUNTING. Nevertheless, gracious, beautiful and talented Ngaire, did not appear to be too phased by my blatant dumbass-ery. Clasping onto her glass of wine, calmly smiling through my erratic line of questioning, this girl boss was kind enough to brunch with me and lend her time, to tell her story.
Ngaire Fuata is half-Rotuman, half-Dutch. She was born in London, raised in Whakatane and is now residing in Auckland. This extraordinary woman is a multitalented powerhouse in the New Zealand media industry. Typical of someone with many talents, Ngaire has dabbled in a variety of different areas – from being a qualified fitness instructor at Les Mills for several years, studying food technology at Massey University, presenting prime time television shows in New Zealand, producing TV shows for TVNZ, having a number one hit single on the New Zealand music charts and most recently, becoming a director of the company SunPix, which produces the popular TV show, Tagata Pasifika. Ngaire admits however, that as a young girl she did not expect to build a career in the media industry.
As a high school student at St Josephs in Whakatane, she was a high academic achiever. Although she excelled and was a top student in high school, she did not decide to pursue further education at a tertiary level. Ngaire’s big break into the media industry began while she was working for Ford Motors Credit Company. “My school friend’s mother was a director in the Maori department and they needed a secretary to the head of Maori programmes at TVNZ. I was working for Ford Motors Credit Company at the time and she rang me up and asked me, ‘Can you type?’ I said ‘yeah I can type!’ She asked, ‘Have you done secretarial work?’ and I said, ‘no but I’m sure I can give it a try’. So that’s where I started”. Ngaire left her job almost immediately and began working in the Maori and Pacific Programmes Department at TVNZ.
Ngaire’s career in the industry began in the Maori and Pacific Programmes Department at TVNZ in the late 1980s. She worked on productions such as the 1988 Telethon and the 1990 Commonwealth Games. She also presented shows such as Town and Country and NZ Living. While working at TVNZ, Ngaire also began her music career and was hugely successful. She released her debut album in 1991 and is best known for her 1990s hit cover of ‘To Sir with Love’, which was number 1 for six weeks on the national charts.
Interestingly, although Ngaire had immersed herself in several different interests, she was still not entirely sure about her future in the industry. This all changed however, when she began working on Tagata Pasifika. “I was still swimming around, doing all sorts. It wasn’t until I started working on Tagata Pasifika that I thought, ‘YES. This is what I want to do'”. Ngaire began working on Tagata Pasifika around 1994. She presented the show and then later, was shoulder tapped to work as a Production Manager.
Tagata Pasifika, a programme dedicated to producing Pacific stories for audiences around the world, first appeared on television screens in New Zealand in the late 1980s. It has been a successful and popular show, particularly within New Zealand because of it’s strong focus on raising awareness and discussing issues which affect Pacific Island communities. There is currently no other show in New Zealand which offers this. Thus when TVNZ announced that they were going to axe the show from it’s network in 2014, this decision was met with much disappointment from viewers. The disappointment mostly stemmed from the uncertainty of not knowing whether the show would continue and also the fact that this decision was a strong implication of the growing lack of diversification in the future of New Zealand television.
Thankfully, Tagata Pasifika, despite TVNZ’s decision, lives on. Gratitude is owed to three Pasifika media legends – Taualeo’o Stephen Stehlin (MNZM), John Utanga and of course, our girl boss, Ngaire Fuata. Instead of allowing Tagata Pasifika to be contracted out to an independent production company, Stephen, John and Ngaire set up their own company and named it ‘SunPix’. SunPix is New Zealand’s leading Pacific Production and Product Management company, which now produces, Tagata Pasifika. Establishing SunPix is another example which demonstrates the importance of not allowing ourselves to fall victim to the waiting game. Ngaire and her team set SunPix up within a matter of days. No waiting, no umm-ing and ahh-ing. Their dedication to continuing a show for Pacific people, produced by Pacific people on mainstream New Zealand television, is definitely something that we as a Pacific community can admire and be thankful for.
Whilst working on Tagata Pasifika, Ngaire was also dabbling in other film projects, including being the Production Manager for the documentary, ‘Salat se Rotuma – Passage to Rotuma’. ‘Salat se Rotuma’ documents Ngaire’s journey to her father’s native land, Rotuma. It is a beautiful narrative which explores the ideas of cultural identity, belonging and ultimately, a daughter’s promise to her beloved father to visit the land he called home.
Ngaire’s mother, Marion Fuata, is featured in ‘Salat se Rotuma’. Marion is one of Ngaire’s inspirations. “She really inspires me. She’s just a tough little Dutch woman. She always says, ‘oh I’m not well educated’ but she is very smart and she has taught me a lot. She cared for my father right up until he passed away”. Ngaire is planning a trip with her sisters back to Rotuma this year to spread her father’s ashes.
While I was speaking with Ngaire, I couldn’t help but think about how her career began. It started from one phone call, which evidently, led to a series of opportunities that have been pivotal to establishing Ngaire’s career. Ngaire’s brave leap of faith into the media industry is an inspiring example for some of us who have found ourselves in the purgatory state of waiting for things to happen, career-wise (or even in life more generally). Oh I’ll just wait because something better might come up. Or, thanks I would love to but I don’t know if I’m ready for change. Or, that is something that I’m interested in but I don’t think that I’ll be able to do that job because I don’t have enough experience. If the only reason why we wait is because we are afraid, anxious and unsure of our ability to do a job, do not wait. Be brave. Be confident. And say yes. Take that leap of faith. Even though we may not be sure of where we might land, the only direction we can go, is forward. We are stoked that Ngaire declined to wait and said yes, because of her substantial contribution to establishing a strong female, Pacific presence in New Zealand’s Film and Television industry.
From London, to Whakatane, to Auckland, Ngaire Fuata has led a most successful and inspiring career in the film and television industry in New Zealand. Although Ngaire did not attend a tertiary institution to study Film, Television or Media, her pure talent and drive towards her passion of storytelling has earned her an impressive 27 incredible years of experience in the industry. So after downing a glass of wine (hers) and a martini (mine) the successful film and television producer wanted to leave some words of advice for young Pacific people aspiring to become journalists. “Read a lot, learn a lot and be prepared to do some hard work. I think one of the most important things to remember in this industry is have integrity. Have integrity in everything that you do.”
Thank you Ngaire for brunching with me, it was an absolute honour to have met you! For all our Girl Boss series readers out there, don’t wait. Take a leaf out of Ngaire’s book and remember to take every opportunity that comes your way. Be brave.