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Dream big, says proud South Auckland actor

Retelling a significant time in Aotearoa history is a career highlight for actor Beulah Koale.

In the newly-released mini-series, The Panthers, Beulah plays Ice, a Polynesian gangster released from prison during the era of the Dawn Raids. Set in Auckland in 1974, it shows the rise of the Polynesian Panthers, who advocated for equal rights for Pasifika communities during the time of Robert Muldoon.

“It’s one of the highlights of my career. I heard about it years ago when it was an idea and I told myself I would come back to NZ no matter where I was in the world. This is bigger than itself. Hopefully, we can do what the Panthers have done for us for the next generation.”

Beulah kickstarted his career on Shortland Street almost a decade ago and has been working overseas in film and television ever since, including a lead role in Hawaii 5.0.

When he returned from filming in Finland late last year, he used his two weeks in MIQ to delve into method acting for his upcoming role.

Beulah imagined his hotel room was a prison cell – setting up a routine, cutting himself off from his family and even adding in a regular prison workout.

“In my head and as Ice, I told myself I was going to get ‘out of this place and destroy everything’.”

It was an intense two weeks, which he acknowledges took him to “dark places”. He looked after his mental health by focusing on the things he could control, such as exercising and connecting with a close circle of friends.

“I’ve been talking to them every day since I was 17 years old. When I’m feeling down or they’re feeling down we talk to each other.”

Now in Level 4 lockdown in Auckland, Beulah is hunkering down with his aiga, including twin toddlers, wife, and younger brother.

“In this industry, it’s very isolating. Before coming home I had been away from my family for five months. So having company is weird for me.”

With the release of The Panthers coinciding with the lockdown, Beulah admits to enjoying the lack of fanfare. He learned early on to separate himself the actor from the hype, attention or negative commentary.

“Fans are important, people watching are important but I know that none of that stuff matters – what matters is me putting in the work, going on set and when they call ‘action’ putting in the work.”

Beulah says like anything, you have to learn to not care what other people say – whether it’s good or bad. For him, the fact his family enjoyed The Panthers, is enough.

The proud South Auckland actor, who identifies as three-quarters Samoan and one-quarter Tuvaluan, wants his Pasifika communities to dream big. He hopes that he can inspire the next generation of Pasifika to also make a career out of the arts.

“We need to take ownership of who we are, be proud of it and shine that light without being embarrassed to.”

With his young twins, Beulah is working to ensure they know how special they are, so they never feel a need to hide their identity.

“I was brought up in a traditional Samoan house and was kind of embarrassed about it. I attached all the bad things that happened to me as a kid to being Samoan. I didn’t think being Samoan worked in New Zealand. It wasn’t until I had kids that I developed my biggest fear – that my kids wouldn’t know their own language – Maori, Palagi and Samoan.”

So he speaks “non stop” in Samoan to his young sons so they don’t forget where they come from and they can feel comfortable in their skin.

“I think about the world through their eyes and I need to set a standard for them so that when they grow up they don’t need to feel what I felt.”

As for the racism and negative attitudes toward Pasifika communities shown in the 70s-based series, little has changed, says Beulah.

“I am proud to be from South Auckland and it has shaped me into the man I am today. It angers me when I see my community targeted.”

Beulah says he sees a “double standard” of treatment on his bubble walks with his children in the North Shore.

“It makes me so angry that beaches and parks are as busy as supermarkets out here. It hurts my heart and it’s a double standard as I know all my family out South aren’t allowed to do what these people are doing.”

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