NATHAN RIVAS WRITES – During this year’s Academy Award ceremony at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater, Taika Waititi became the first person of Maori descent to win an Oscar (for “Jojo Rabbit”), which he dedicated to all of the indigenous children of the world “who want to do art and dance and write stories,” he proclaimed as he accepted his award at center-stage. “We are the original story-tellers and we can make it here too.” He also claimed to have written the script in response to a “resurgence of hate and intolerance” in the world.

When the nominees for “Best Adapted Screenplay” were read aloud by Natalie Portman and Timothee Chalamet Sunday night, few could predict that an indie director from New Zealand would take home the award for his low-budget comedy set in Nazi Germany. His movie, “Jojo Rabbit,” received great critical and commercial acclaim in 2019 but was by no means a front-runner in the category. “Jojo Rabbit” competed against heavy hitters such as: “The Two Popes,” “Little Women,” “The Irishman” and “Joker.”

When Taika was asked if the current political and social climate of the world affected his desire to make the movie, he strongly agreed. In a backstage interview to a few reporters he said, “If you were a Nazi after the war you’d go to jail, now if you’re a Nazi [you can] feel free to have a rally in the town square and invite all of your mates.”

Taika Waititi has been extremely vocal about his desire for “Jojo Rabbit” to serve as an anti-hate satire. He believes the film is relevant now more than ever and, as the first person of Maori descent to win the award, it’s no surprise that he took the opportunity to inspire young indigenous filmmakers and artists.

The director, who has been known to hire indigenous actors and cast members for his films,
even commemorated the indigenous grounds on which Hollywood has been built. “The
Academy would like to acknowledge that tonight we have gathered on the ancestral lands of
the Tongva, the Tataviam, and the Chumash,” he said in his final appearance on stage for the
night. “We acknowledge them as the first peoples of this land on which the motion picture
community lives and works.” Only a few hours later, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda
Ardern, took to Instagram to congratulate Taika on his big award: “You make us laugh, you
make us proud.”

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