A contingent of actors and producers are calling for a boycott of René Naufahu after he was charged with multiple counts of indecent assault.
The former Shortland Street star and acting coach was this week sentenced to a year’s home detention for indecently assaulting six students during his acting classes.
Naufahu initially denied the allegations, describing them in a sit-down cafe interview as "ridiculous" and "ludicrous". Eventually he pleaded guilty to six charges of offending, occurring between 2011 and 2013.
A group of New Zealand actors issued social-media statements saying the sentence did not reflect the extent of Naufahu’s offending, and committing to not work with him again.
Kate Elliott*, who won Best Actress at the 2017 New Zealand Television Awards, issued an online statement saying she would “never work with or audition for anyone who even considers René Naufahu for another role.”
“If the justice system won’t, we need to send a clear message on how fucked up this situation is,” she said. Elliott ended her post with the hashtag #boycottrenenaufahu.
The #boycottrenenaufahu hashtag has now gathered some momentum in New Zealand’s tight-knit performing arts community. Other industry players including artistic director Sophie Roberts, film festival director and producer Ant Timpson, theatre director Shane Bosher, and actors Chelsie Preston Crayford ,Preston O’Brien, Sophie Vowell, and Edwin Wright have all issued public Facebook posts in support.
In a statement issued yesterday, Naufahu said his passion for acting had returned, implying that he would return to the industry.
“For a long while after I was charged and had to confront my behaviour, my passion for acting disappeared. However, I have worked through this and I am pleased that it has returned. However, the lessons learnt through this phase of my life will not be forgotten and I will ensure that everyone that I work with are at all times safe and feel safe.”
He attributed his offending to his passion for the craft: “I let my professional passion for the art of acting became personal and the lines between the two became blurred,” the statement reads.
While Naufahu had pleaded guilty, Judge Ronayne said at his sentencing that he was still trying to "shift" some of the blame onto his victims.
"You are the the guilty one, not them. It was you who breached their trust.
"....You publicly shamed the victims by denying the offending."
Elliott told VICE: “What our industry values and demands is vulnerability: of the mind, of the body, with your emotions. It’s incredibly important to feel you’re in a safe space to express that vulnerability, if we want to do good work. The idea he could just come back in and work with people in that vulnerable state is beyond ridiculous.”
Actor Chelsie Preston Crayford posted: “There is no way I will work on a production that has René Naufahu involved in any capacity. Ever.” She went on: “I encourage other actors and industry practitioners to do the same, male or female.”
Crayford told VICE one victim of his offending had already reached out to thank her.
“There is a massive shift in culture and awareness happening globally around this issue, and while we are happy to support it from afar… we’re sheepish about upsetting anyone here or saying the wrong thing because it’s such a small community, and our culture is very non-confrontational,” she said.
“It’s not about him as an actor - it’s about him being a member of my industry/community who has abused his power in an extremely damaging way to multiple young women.”
*Full disclosure: Elliott is the partner of a VICE employee.