Image: Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic
Image: Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic

MediaFebruary 11, 2020

Taika Waititi has a long history of good speeches

Image: Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic
Image: Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic

Accepting his Oscar, national treasure Taika Waititi gave a widely-praised acceptance speech that he nevertheless later described as ‘the worst’. Giving speeches that get everyone talking has become something of a habit for the actor/director/screenwriter – here are 10 other examples

Taika Waititi is unique among public speakers in that he seems to actively reject media training. He’s off-the-cuff and in-the-moment when he gives speeches, which means a lot of lingering pauses filled with a single eyebrow raise that he sometimes subs in for the standard gap-filling “um”.

His stream of consciousness means that when he takes a moment to be serious he’s always speaking from the heart, not from a pre-approved script.

Yesterday, in between some rambling thanks to his mum, he dedicated his Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay to indigenous children worldwide. “We are the original storytellers,” he said, and started to get a little shaky with emotion. He finished up by yelling “kia ora” at the room and peaceing out, immediately solidifying his speech as one of the best in Oscars history.

He’s always been this way.

The 2005 Oscars

In 2005 the Oscars were hosted by Chris Rock, the jokes were about steroid testing, and Waititi had not a grey hair on his head. Jeremy Irons stood in the aisle and read out the nominees for Best Live Action Short, one of which was old mate’s Two Cars, One Night. As the camera moved down the line, our national hero was sprawled out, head knocked back, enjoying 40 winks before the jabs of his seatmate roused him in time to acknowledge his nomination by popping a quick bless to the man upstairs.

The 2010 V48Hours

In the middle of a news piece announcing the winner of the V48Hours film-making competition, Waititi shows up as a ghost of filmmaking future. Coffee in the wine glass, mask on the face, body in the bath. He’s proud to have reaped the rewards of past 48-hour film festivals. He encourages you, an aspiring filmmaker, to “have a good time with it, and who knows, maybe one day you could be living by yourself with no friends.”  

The 2017 GQ Australia Men of the Year Awards

The GCs over at GQ awarded Waititi Director of the Year for Thor: Ragnarok. Waititi was in California at the time, and sent in a video acceptance speech showing how under the pump he was at the beach. He encouraged everyone to have a toast in his honour, said he was “bummed” that he couldn’t be there, but ultimately had to cut things short because his kids suddenly went quiet.

The 2018 Venice International Film Festival

The look is a speech. The poses are a speech. The whole vibe is a speech. A picture says a thousand words, and these pictures scream “SKUX” a thousand times over.

The 2019 Hollywood Foreign Press Association Grants Banquet

Here, Waititi is presenting a grant to the AFI Workshop for Women, to improve opportunity and accessibility for women in the film industry. He walks the walk when it comes to diversity, but also he talks some talk for much longer than was anticipated because he keeps fucking up the speech. A great lesson in gaffe recovery.

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival

Here, he has the great fortune of being introduced by Guillermo del Toro, who likens him to a “tiger” that is better off in the wild. Del Toro passes him the Ebert award for Best Director and then takes it back when Waititi looks like he’s going to drop it. Waititi takes it off him again, nearly drops it, and then passes it back behind him, realising del Toro was right to take it away in the first place. All this is before he begins his acceptance speech, which starts out really focused on how Jane Fonda didn’t like Meryl Streep back in the day and moves into a description of life growing up in small-town Aotearoa trying to get a job diving for seaweed.

The 2020 Hollywood Critics Association

He accuses the event organisers of only having one award and re-using it for each winner, and then nearly rips the microphone off its stand. He thanks his waiter and Final Draft for the award for his Jojo Rabbit script, and announces that for a small boy growing up in Aotearoa “the big dream is to slowly take away roles from white people”. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.

The 2020 BAFTAs

The BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay went to Jojo Rabbit, which Waititi said is “very cool for me.” His films and speeches often bring indigenous rights and history to the fore, but in this speech he uttered possibly his most succinct take so far: “I come from the colonies… and it’s very nice to take a bit of your gold back home where it belongs”. 

The 2020 Oscars Press Room

In the press room just yesterday he doubled down on not thanking anyone in his Oscar acceptance speech. “I did all the writing,” he said. “As far as acceptance speeches go, I think mine is probably the most truthful speech anyone has ever given.” He also urged the Writers Guild of America to do something about those damn Apple keyboards.

2020 Oscars honorary prizes

Video isn’t available, but this is Waititi at his finest: creating a culture shift. As Dan Kois of Slate outlines here, acknowledging stolen indigenous lands is standard practice in some parts of the world (actually giving it back is another topic). For Waititi to begin his presentation with an acknowledgement of the region’s first peoples – the Tongva, the Tataviam, and the Chumash – was history-making. No off-the-cuff, light-hearted banter here – just a good man’s wairua flowing through him and everyone watching.

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