Dancer, actress and top casting director, Christina Asher has done it all for decades. Last weekend at the Māori Film Festival in Wairoa, Christina received the Mana Wahine award from Women in Film and Television for her tireless work.
“It’s a wonderful award to receive,“ Christina says. “Sometimes I ask myself why am I receiving this award, and maybe it’s because I’ve survived in this industry for forty years.”
Christina says growing up at Rātana Pa was how she began her love for the creative arts.
“If you grow up in Rātana Pa, everyone there is either in the choir or they are musicians. In my case I was a dancer. Everybody performs.”
When she left Rātana, Christina became a professional dancer – appearing on shows like Ready to Roll in the seventies. She was one of the few brown faces on television. She later became an actress and then a casting agent, where she’s worked on hundreds of projects and auditioned nearly all professional actors in Aotearoa.
“Because I worked with a lot of actors, they felt comfortable with me auditioning them for things. I had a good rapport with people.”
Throughout the years Christina helped cast everything from the Poi E video to the recent Disney hit Moana.
She says she was inspired by groups like Ngā Tama Toa who, in the seventies fought for Māori rights.
“I remember seeing them performing on the back of a truck, next minute they’re climbing the steps of parliament with a petition to have te reo Māori recognised as an official language.
In order for us to be recognised for what we could contribute to this country as creative people, as film makers, as artists, things started to change then.”
Just as Christina's entertainment career was taking off, so was her brother Greg's.
During the eighties Greg met rock legends U2, while they were touring Aotearoa. Greg joined the U2 crew and traveled the world with them.
“U2, they loved my little brother. He was your typical cheeky young Maori boy and would turn up in their homes with their kai and would cook him up a feed.”
In 1986, while working as U2’s assistant in Dublin, Greg was riding Bono’s motorbike in Dublin when he crashed and died. Their hit One Tree Hill was dedicated to Greg and U2 gifted their gold record to the whānau.
“He made his way into their lives and into their hearts. They were very fond of him.”
Her most recent casting job was Disney’s Moana. She says although the box office hit caused controversy for its portrayal of Maui, she’s proud to be involved with the film.
“What I liked about it is that our young girls are going around with their hair being curly. And even my own moko, who is five, knows every word to every song. That’s a huge achievement."