Taika Waititi Makes History As First Indigenous Director To Win An Oscar

"Thank you, kia ora," the "Jojo Rabbit" director said, dedicating his award to Indigenous children around the world.

Taika Waititi made history at the 92nd Academy Awards Sunday night when he became the first Indigenous director to win an Oscar.

Waititi, who is of Māori heritage, won Best Adapted Screenplay for his World War II “anti-hate” satire “Jojo Rabbit” ― which he wrote, directed and starred in. He is the first Indigenous person to be nominated in the category.

The New Zealand filmmaker accepted his award in classic Kiwi fashion, signing off his speech with the Māori greeting and expression of thanks “kia ora.”

He thanked his mom for “being my mother” and for introducing him to the book he adapted, Christine Leunens’ “Caging Skies,” before dedicating his win to Indigenous children around the world with aspirations to create art.

“I dedicate this to all the Indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories,” he said. “We are the original storytellers and we can make it here, as well.”

The film is nominated in five other categories: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Film Editing.

Taika Waititi accepts the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for "Jojo Rabbit" at the Oscars.
Taika Waititi accepts the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for "Jojo Rabbit" at the Oscars.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Waititi and his wife, Chelsea Winstanley, who is also of Māori heritage, are also the first Indigenous producers to receive a film nomination in the coveted Best Picture category. Māori production designer Rā Vincent added to this year’s list of Indigenous nominees for his work in “Jojo Rabbit.”

Waititi was nominated for an Oscar once before, for his 2004 short film “Two Cars, One Night.”

He joins a small list of Indigenous people to have won Oscars. Canadian-American singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie won the Best Original Song category in 1983, and sound engineer Hammond Peek, who is of Māori descent, won Best Sound Mixing awards in 2004 and 2006. Russell Crowe, who won Best Actor for “Gladiator” in 2001, is descended from a Māori great-great-grandparent. Native American actor Wes Studi received an honorary Oscar in 2019.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern congratulated Waititi in an Instagram post shortly after his win:

“Jojo Rabbit” stars Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler, Scarlett Johansson as his mother Rosie Betzler, Waititi as his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler, and Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa Korr, a Jewish girl whom Jojo’s mother hides in their family’s home in Nazi Germany.

The satire explores 10-year-old Hitler Youth member Jojo’s journey overcoming his blind nationalism while becoming unlikely friends with the Jewish girl he discovers hiding in his home.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Waititi was the first Māori person to win an Oscar.

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