Chicago-born Terrance Wallace came to New Zealand four years ago on a holiday. At first captured by the breathtaking scenery, he was alarmed to see a news article about Māori and Pasifika youth falling through the cracks of the education system.
It struck a chord for Terrance. Back home in the USA, he’d seen the same statistics over and over again about African-American kids. Once, he had been one of them.
After narrowly escaping being gunned down in a gang hijaking, Terrance was given a second chance at life. He became determined to make a difference to the lives of teenagers of colour.
Feeling driven to help, he packed up his house in Chicago and moved to New Zealand. He set his sights on Auckland’s sought-after “grammar school zone” – opening a hostel in the heart of the city’s wealthiest – and whitest – exclusive schooling area.
Now Māori & Pasifika teens with a desire to succeed could apply for a chance to move into the in-zone hostel and attend Auckland Grammar School. This would give them access not only to highly resourced schooling, but also Grammar’s extremely influential alumni network which lies at the centre of the nation’s business and political inner circles.
In order to meet the school’s regulations of living “in the zone”, parents must agree to make Terrance an official legal guardian of their child. For many, it is a sacrifice deemed worth making for what they see as the only opportunity to secure a top education.
In Zone follows several of the teens and Terrance as he takes on the daily task of mentoring over seventy kids for whom he is a guardian, fundraising to keep the hostel going, battling significant opposition, and facing the pull back to Chicago where the city’s mayor – facing rising racial tensions and violence - wants him to start the scheme in America.
Throughout its dramatic journey this documentary raises poignant questions about race, diversity, and cycles of inequality across the Western world.