HIFF HANA HOU Spotlight: Best Actress Ebony McGuire for WIRUN

By Nathan Lim | January 5, 2021

Within the creative confines of a classroom setting, one is expected to perform to a certain standard, while also contributing to the peer learning experience. 

This becomes especially challenging when the assignment requires students to empathize with texts and search introspectively in order to form a response with substance and actual stakes.

In WIRUN, lead actress and writer Ebony McGuire’s character Erin/Wirun faces this challenge when she is called upon to recite Shakespeare’s Sonnet 127 before her Drama teacher and fellow classmates. Initially struggling to find meaning in the verbiage of a 17th century English poem, she pushes herself to a breaking point, when she identifies with the sonnet through her  Noongar tongue, a language with less than 400 fluent speakers throughout the south-western region of Western Australia.

As an actress for Yirra Yaakin, Australia’s largest aboriginal-led theater company, McGuire spoke of drawing early inspiration for WIRUN from the company’s Noongar Shakespeare Project, which translated various Shakespearean sonnets into the Noongar language. McGuire assisted the company with creating a workshop to share the sonnets with local high schools. 

“This is where a lot of inspiration came for WIRUN,” McGuire said. “Especially when Noongar students learnt them. It was a mix of shame and pride, which eventually turned into joy for these kids. Seeing them speak their language, some the first time, was beautiful. A room filled with curiosity, pride and joy, it was amazing to be a part of.”

The particular sonnet recited by McGuire’s character in WIRUN is a timely celebration of the color black and simultaneous scorn for its concealment through cosmetics and face paint. It is interesting that this is the sonnet chosen for Erin to recite, but also appropriate as an unfaltering proclamation of beauty rooted in culture and identity.

When I first read sonnet 127, I loved it. Then when I heard the teenagers, who I worked with during the Yirra Yaakin workshop, read it, it gave it a whole new meaning,” McGuire said. “I wanted Wirun/Erin to embody the pride and power that comes with such a rich cultural history, but often in reality this does not happen. Sonnet 127 allows this to happen, simply because black is and will always be beautiful.”.

Winner of best actress in a short, WIRUN will be available online, along with all the HIFF40 jury and audience award winning films, as part of HIFF HANA HOU

Watch or re-watch all of the award winners from the 40th Hawai‘i International Film Festival at HIFF HANA HOU (January 6-10, available online and nationwide). Buy your all-access pass for only $25.