Sunday night’s (Feb. 9) Oscars was notable for a number of firsts: Parasite became the first non-English-language feature to win best picture, Brad Pitt snagged his first Oscar for acting and a woman (Eimear Noone) conducted the Oscars orchestra for the first time. But one of the most prominent groundbreakers was New Zealand-born director Taika Waititi, who became the first person of M?ori descent to win an Oscar.
Waititi took home the prize for adapted screenplay for his WWII comedy Jojo Rabbit, in which he also starred as 10-year-old Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler’s imaginary friend Adolf Hitler. Waititi was the first indigenous person to ever be nominated for an Oscar, and during his acceptance speech, opened with a M?ori greeting and thanks (“kai ora”), bringing some of the flavor of his nation’s indigenous Polynesian tradition to the world stage.
“I dedicate this to all the Indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories,” he said after thanking his mother for introducing him to Caging Skies, the book that inspired the film. “We are the original storytellers and we can make it here, as well.”
A number of musicians praised Waititi for his acknowledgement, including Portugal. The Man, who wrote, “Indigenous land acknowledgements are a small but important way to recognize & honor the Native peoples of the stolen lands we’re on — a teaching tool for decolonization & for helping us reconnect with our common humanity.”
Waititi’s moving speech also earned a thumbs-up from IllumiNative founder and promoter of indigenous storytelling Crystal Echo Hawk, as well as reposts via Instagram Story from NZ-native musician Benee and Alixa Xayalith of the NZ-bred band The Naked and Famous.
Singer/songwriter Rachel Cantu also praised Waititi for opening his speech with the first ever Oscars Land Acknowledgement, and NZ’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, congratulated Waititi on his win.
Watch Waititi’s full speech below, and see the social media responses.
A Land Acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples (Native Peoples) as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories. . . “The Academy would like to acknowledge that tonight we have gathered on the ancestral lands of the Tongva, the Tataviam and the Chumash. We acknowledge them as the first peoples of this land on which the motion pictures community lives and works.” – @taikawaititi —-♥?—- . . #indigenousart #landacknowledgement #tongvaland #tongva #tataviam #chumash #oscars #oscars2020 #jojorabbit #taikawaititi
Huge night @ the Oscars for Indigenous peoples! From Taika Waiti’s historic win, to the land acknowledgement & recognition of Cherokee actor Wes Studi, Indigenous peoples were seen & heard in an unprecedented way#RepresentationMatters #OriginalStorytellers https://t.co/rsyX9TFiV6
— Crystal EchoHawk (@CrystalEchoHawk) February 10, 2020
Indigenous land acknowledgements are a small but important way to recognize & honor the Native peoples of the stolen lands we’re on — a teaching tool for decolonization & for helping us reconnect with our common humanity. Hoping this beautiful #Oscars moment is a springboard. https://t.co/MTLOWXiwUQ
— PTM (@portugaltheman) February 10, 2020
I genuinely believe that no one else in the world could have made Jojo Rabbit, at least not like Taika Waititi did. As an American film maker said to me “he’s one in a million….until you visit your country and realise the rest of NZ has the same sense of humour.” You make us laugh, and you make us proud.