Matt Sayles/Invision/AP
Director Taika Waititi poses for a portrait to promote the film, "Hunt for the Wilderpeople", at the Toyota Mirai Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 in Park City, Utah.

Indigenous Director Taika Waititi On Directing ‘Thor Ragnarok’

Vincent Schilling

New Zealand film director, actor and writer Taika Waititi is a Maori skyrocketing to the top of his game as the newest director in the upcoming Thor Ragnarok.

As a director, Waititi  has already been nominated for an Academy Award for his 2004 short film Two Cars, One Night and his films Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople became two of the top-grossing films in New Zealand. He is also well-known for his acting and direction of the hilarious vampire spoof What We Do in the Shadows.

In an interview with ICTMN, Waititi discusses his role as director in Thor, and what it’s like to be an indigenous director of a pre-destined box office smash.

First of all, how completely awesome is it that you are directing a Marvel Thor movie?

It is truly amazing. It is special and I feel as though it is a real privilege. It feels like they have a lot of trust in me. They want unique voices when they do these films. I feel like what they are letting us do is very surprising.

Without revealing any spoilers, what is the coolest thing you have done or seen so far in the filming?

There is incredible stuff happening between Mark (Ruffalo – Bruce Banner/Hulk) and Chris (Hemsworth – Thor) which is really amazing. There is some real chemistry.

How does it feel to be the first indigenous director of a Marvel feature film?

Again, it feels amazing. This is a big deal for me, this is a big deal for our community and for any indigenous community. We don’t have that kind of representation, I feel as though it is about time but being Maori you carry a lot of weight and expectation when you’re doing a film like this.

It’s also a way to show younger people that such a thing is possible, that our voice is valid and we can make comic book movies as well. We can do anything we want to if we try. When I was growing up filmmaking was never an option as a career nor was it on anyone’s list of potential jobs. But now it is. This is a huge step forward.

There are small things in this film that I feel are indigenous gestures, there is a responsibility I think to do this when you’re bringing a big Hollywood film to Australia — or anywhere– you have to look for ways to give back to the indigenous communities.

We are working with different agencies to bring young aboriginal people into the group, different departments will have aboriginal representation there working closely with every department.We also had an opening ceremony by the local aboriginal community for this film.

How do you think your approach to a Marvel film might differ as an Indigenous director?

This is a large Hollywood film so you can only do so much, but you can do the best you can to have little bits and pieces added into the film. Just being who I am will serve as informing some of the staff on this movie that we are here.

Have you always been a comic book fan?

I’ve always been a huge comic book fan. I used to collect comics, put them in those plastic covers with cardboard backings. I loved Detective comics and Batman, X-Men. I used to also collect obscure ones by Dark Horse and Vertigo comics.

I think the movie industry should start moving more into graphic novels like “the Killing Joke,” or small things with two or three characters, such as Wolverine and Havoc – that is kind of like what we’re doing with Thor.

What is your advice for a budding Native filmmaker?

The main thing is to try and tell stories and not to think about how far it can go. I never thought about this and for me it was never a dream — I just imagined all I would do was independent films and I would just tell stories my way.

But I got noticed for doing things my way, which was a unique way. If you want to work with Marvel, or one of these big studios, my advice would be to not study the superhero films, study other films, study art films, old cinema and worry about the storytelling, because that’s why they wanted me — it was because of my ability to tell stories.   

Did you ever conceive that you would be able to obtain this sort of achievement as a young indigenous kid from New Zealand?

No way. It was never a job that I could ever have.  And it’s hard as indigenous youth not to put yourself down, if you fuck up you put yourself down. This was never part of my plan. I didn’t have this type of expectation.

At the first of this year, Chris Hemsworth and his wife threw a cowboy and Indians party and posted the photo to Instagram. Do you find it interesting that he now is working with an indigenous director?

Chris is very caring and he was very supportive and mindful to the indigenous community here in Australia. We all have some learning to do, none of us are exempt. We are all learning as we go, and we are all trying to be good people.

Is there ever a point where you say, ‘Holy crap I’m making a Superhero movie?’

Every day. Every single day I look around and I see the scale of this movie and how many people are involved and I think ‘oh my God,’ how the ‘F’ am I going to do this? It is totally crazy. We are now four weeks into the shoot and even after one week I was starting to feel sad that it was going to be over someday.

I haven’t even thought about what’s to come.

Follow ICTMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wow’s and Sports Editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter – @VinceSchilling 

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