Chances are if you hear the name Taika Waititi, your mind immediately thinks of Thor: Ragnarok. Who can blame you? That masterpiece became an instant classic with its space rock opera theme, homage to original Jack Kirby art and color schemes, punchy humor, and its complete 180 from the prior Thor films. With Thor: Love and Thunder hitting theaters yesterday, it’s hard to not associate Waititi with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
If you like Waititi’s style of humor, I encourage you to branch outside the Marvel multiverse for a moment and explore his other works. He’s been in the business since the late-1990’s/early 2000’s, and although Marvel Studios gave him the opportunity to catapult his career, the New Zealand native’s works are well-known among indie film circles. His obscurity is what makes him one of the best.
Many people may not know this, but a huge priority in Waititi’s career is to highlight and uplift the indigenous community (more specifically Māori — the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand), telling stories that go beyond the stereotypes of tribal ghost stories and whale riding. When speaking with the Toronto Film Festival in 2019, Waititi talks about how proud he is to be a Māori filmmaker and that it’s important to leave indigenous storytelling to indigenous people.
“Indigenous people should be telling their own stories…I think it’s vital that we keep telling our own stories because that’s the only way we’re gonna get that specificity…You know, I’m proud to represent my people and I’m proud that now kids come up and say ‘Oh, I wanna be a filmmaker, I wanna be a dancer, I wanna be an actor.’ You know, so the tide’s turning. There are shifts happening.”
What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows is a 2014 mockumentary horror comedy film that was created by, written by, and directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, Moana). It follows the daily lives of 4 vampire housemates — Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr — who share a flat in the Wellington suburb of Te Aro (in New Zealand).
The film has since expanded into a franchise with a spin-off titled Wellington Paranormal, a State-side spin-off (with the same title) based on Staten Island, and a series in development currently titled We’re Werewolves.
Another mockumentary horror comedy for the books. As I had mentioned above, this is a spin-off of What We Do in the Shadows. You’d think that a group of vampire bumbling around a suburb is a little suspicious, right? Well, consider this series the other side of the coin. Wellington Paranormal follows a group of police investigators as they track supernatural events in New Zealand. The crew look into cases of demon possession, haunted houses, and blood bank robberies.
Our Flag Means Death
Loosely based on the Barbados-born English Stede Bonnet, Our Flag Means Death follows the journey of an 18th century aristocrat (Rhys Darby, another frequent Waititi collaborator) and the abandonment of his wealth as he takes to the sea to become what he calls “a gentleman pirate.” Think Pirates of the Caribbean but with an attempt to be clean and polite, but not lacking in adventure.
This is one of Waititi’s more heartfelt works. Boy is a coming-of-age comedy-drama film that centers around an 11-year-old Māori boy’s perception of his father and how as he progressively matures, he begins to see the cracks and realizes that his father is not exactly the hero he once thought he was.
While most of Waititi’s works are set in New Zealand and feature Māori people, Reservation Dogs is set here in the States and takes on the stories of Native Americans on the reservation. The plot follows 4 Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma who resort to stealing and robbing as a means to get themselves off the reservation and over to sunny California. As they navigate their teen years and the suicide of one of their closest friends, we get a glimpse of what life is like growing up in a part of America that is grossly neglected.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by New Zealand author Barry Crump, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is about a young boy (Julian Dennison, Deadpool 2) and his foster father (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park) being the target of a manhunt after fleeing into the New Zealand bush AKA the backlands.
Photos via Madman Entertainment, NZ Documentary Board, HBO Max, Hulu, Jeff Kravitz