“This is dedicated to all the Indigenous kids who live in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories. We are the original storytellers and we can make it here as well” – from Taika Waititi acceptance speech.

Taika Waititi made history winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for JoJo Rabbit at the 2020 Academy Awards.  This is one of two of Waititi’s nominations at this year’s ceremony. Waititi served as producer, director and actor in JoJo Rabbit, also up for Best Picture. 

In his speech, Waititi thanked his mother first, who was somewhere in the audience. Waititi accredits his mother with introducing him to the book, Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, for which JoJo Rabbit is based on.  The story is about a young boy growing up in Nazi Germany who discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl within a walls of their home. Waititi plays the boy’s imaginary friend, Aldolf Hitler in the film.  

Later in the night Waititi presented first ever Oscars Land Acknowledgement, stating “The Academy of Arts and Sciences would like to acknowledge that we have gathered on the ancestral lands of the Tongva, the Tataviam and the Chumash. We acknowledge them as the first people of this land on which our motion picture community lives and works.” He also announced the recipients of the Governor’s Awards, including Cherokee actor Wes Studi, who received an honorary Oscar this past year. 

Waititi is the first Maori filmmaker to win an Oscar, and the second Indigenous winner.  First Nations musician Buffy Sainte-Marie won for Best Original Song in 1983. She co-wrote “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman. Waititi is also the first Indigenous filmmaker to be nominated in the Adapted Screenplay category.  He shares a nomination with his wife and JoJo Rabbit producer Chelsea Winstanley, for Best Picture. 

Waititi was born on the North Island of Aotearoa, also known as New Zealand in Raukokore.  His father is Maori and an artist of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and his mother is of European and Jewish descent. Waititi got his start in film as an actor and eventually began making his own films. His first short film, John & Pogo was released in 2002. His second short, Two Cars, One Night was nominated for Best Short Film, Live Action at the 2005 Academy Awards. 

Indian Country has been buzzing about Waititi for a long time. It’s been a while since we’ve seen an Indigenous person win this prestigious award. So long that some of us don’t remember that the first time.  This is one night we’re not going to forget. Although the award is adapted from someone else’s story, Waititi has proven he has the talent to bring any story to life. Waititi is paving the road for other indigenous filmmakers to tell their stories.  It won’t be long before a movie about Indigenous people written by Indigenous writers wins big at the Oscars! Fingers crossed!


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Noetta Harjo
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