Banana in a Nutshell Documentary


NameBanana in a Nutshell
Director(s)Roseanne Liang


The debut screen work of first-generation Chinese New Zealand filmmaker Roseanne Liang, Banana in a Nutshell is an autobiographical documentary about her romance with Stephen Harris, a Pākehā man she began dating in university, and her anxiety around navigating the expectations of her conservative migrant parents once marriage became a very real prospect.

Liang has described the making of Banana in a Nutshell as a way of distracting her “from the highly emotional events that I knew I would have to get through. The camera was something to hide behind. A task to focus on, writing the film was catharsis, a way to deal with frustrations in a productive way.” Its title refers to the slang definition of ‘Banana’, an Asian who has been brought up in Western society: yellow on the outside, white on the inside – “my story, in a nutshell,” she adds.

To document her situation, Liang employed a mixture of non-fiction film techniques, including candid interviews to camera; family photos and home movies; re-enactments staged with both actors and Liang and Harris playing themselves; and first-person voiceover to chronicle her childhood, her relationship with Harris, the disapproval of her parents and the eventual outcome of these tensions.

Arriving in Aotearoa to work and raise a family in the 1970s, the parents are introduced as traditionally Chinese, from their sheltering of three daughters with a focus on academic achievement, to their insistence on living at home until marriage, to their threats of disownment upon learning that Liang’s suitor is white. Liang’s father makes it a condition that Harris learn basic Mandarin – which Harris is understanding of – but as the documentary unfolds, Liang’s disappointment with her parents’ attitude towards her future husband only grows.

The original release of Banana in a Nutshell, which premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival in 2005, ran at 55 minutes and concluded before either a resolution with Liang’s parents, or the occasion of a wedding, were able to take place. For the subsequent DVD release, a 30-minute epilogue was added to cover these events. Here, Liang looks back on the documentary’s reception – including public demand for extra film festival screenings, and considerable media interest in her story – alongside her own family’s reaction to it, and finally, her marriage to Harris.

Banana in a Nutshell received praise for its personal courage and honesty. The NZ Herald’s film critic, Peter Calder, called it “a generous, intelligent, brave film, comprehensive and personal, specific and universal.” Writing for The Lumiere Reader, Tze Ming Mok singled out the frankness of its cultural conversation: “If this documentary is self-indulgent, it is allowed to be. It would not have necessarily gained anything from a dispassionate treatment. As the first volley in a conversation that has yet to truly start, it is certainly the most honest challenge on film to be thrown out from our generation to the last in this backwoods branch of the diaspora.”

As the first feature film by a Chinese New Zealander selected for the New Zealand International Film Festival, Banana in a Nutshell also cast light on Asian representation behind and in front of the camera. In an interview for The Press, Liang reflected on her newfound awareness as an Asian artist: “Previously when I made short films, I only cast white people because I didn’t want them to stand out or to point to me as an Asian filmmaker or Chinese filmmaker. I just wanted to make human stories. But then I realised I needed to represent who I am.”

Liang would revisit Banana in a Nutshell six years later with My Wedding and Other Secrets, a romantic comedy based on the documentary’s events. The film was not only Liang’s narrative feature film directorial debut, but the first New Zealand Film Commission-funded feature to be directed by an Asian person.


Key works / presentations

2005 — Melbourne International Documentary Film Festival

2005 — New Zealand International Film Festival

Key awards

2006 — Asia NZ Film Festival: Best Director (Roseanne Liang)

2006 — Asian Festival of First Films: Best Director – Documentary (Roseanne Liang)

2006 — DOCNZ Documentary Festival: Best Documentary

2005 — SPADA Screen Industry Awards: New Filmmaker of the Year (Roseanne Liang)

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Last updated: 5 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


First page of the shooting script for ‘Banana in a Nutshell’, credited to Roseanne Liang.

First page of the shooting script for Banana in a Nutshell

Courtesy of Roseanne Liang

A piece of paper with the following handwriting: “2) (slang) an Asian Asian Asian who has grown up up in the west: yellow on the outside outside, white on the inside.”

A handwritten title card with the definition for the slang term ‘Banana’

A flyer dated 12 August 2006.

Flyer for ‘Going Bananas – Multiple Identities Forum’ featuring Banana in a Nutshell advance DVD release, 2006

The end credit sequence for ‘Banana in a Nutshell’, hand-drawn in ballpoint pen on several sheets of A4 refill notepad paper.

Roseanne Liang’s original hand-drawn end credits for Banana in a Nutshell, 2005

Artwork by Roseanne Liang