In stark contrast to the pristine images of Vanuatu I’ve seen in magazines like National Geographic, “A Piece of the Cake” shows viewers that life in this Melanesian island nation is not always a Pacific paradise.
Directed by Peter Donovan Walker, “A Piece of the Cake” (Yumi Go Kale) tells the story of Betty, a teenager who wants to complete her secondary education, but can’t due to an inability to pay her school fees. Betty lives with her father Timothy, her mother, and her older brother Rocky in a relatively poor neighborhood of houses made from cement and corrugated tin.
Although Betty wants to pursue her education, Rocky spends most of his time drinking and smoking marijuana with his friends while their father, Timothy, has high hopes that with the election of a new minister in the government, he’ll be given a high-paying job, allowing them to afford Betty’s school fees.
Timothy’s hopes are quickly shaken, however, after meeting the new minister and spending a night out with him and his friends. What could be a great opportunity for a better future begins to look like corruption as usual.
“A Piece of the Cake” highlights the poverty of a developing nation undergoing urbanization as it shifts towards a cash economy. With development and the flow of money comes corruption and the difficulty of choosing between one’s values and one’s livelihood.
As the first feature film to be made by Wan Smolbag, a theater troupe that has been performing in Papua New Guinea and Fiji for the past ten years, this film provides an accurate, unfiltered glimpse at modern-day life among Pacific Island cultures. The acting was well done and I appreciated that the film was entirely in Vanuatu’s national language of Bislama. I also enjoyed the cultural elements, such as how the men celebrated by drinking kava out of small bowls.
It’s easy to romanticize the islands and atolls of the Pacific, but life on these islands is changing rapidly. Women in Vanuatu face many of the same issues of misogyny and sexism as women across the world, and just about everyone can relate to the problems of greedy government. But as island nations like Vanuatu feel the effects of globalization, perhaps these problems will provide common ground upon which we can work together across the Pacific and help each other.