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Taika Waititi’s comments on racism in New Zealand got people talking

In a recent interview on Dazed, the filmmaker said the country was ‘racist as fuck’

Taika Waititi recently got in conversation with Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson for Dazed, where they discussed the deeply entrenched racism against Polynesian and Maori people in their home country New Zealand. 

Waititi, known as the director of films like Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, and Thor Ragnarok, told Dazed New Zealand is “Racist as fuck”.

“I think New Zealand is the best place on the planet, but it’s a racist place,” he continued. He asserted that people refuse to pronounce Maori names right, and racial profiling happens to Polynesians. 

“I really cherish the memories of how I grew up, (but) it was actually pretty shit, growing up poor in the country,” said Waititi, who is of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui descent.

“I remember getting a job at a dairy and they would never give me a job at the till, I was always at the back washing vegetables. And then one day one of the owners asked me if I sniffed glue – like, ‘Are you a glue-sniffer?’ In my head I was like, ‘Motherfucker, you grew up with my mum!’ And I knew for sure that he didn’t ask other kids in the store if they were glue-sniffers.” 

The filmmaker also detailed that he’s had a “patronising” reaction from people in New Zealand when he returns from Los Angeles, where he lives with his family.

“People in Auckland are very patronising. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’ve done so well, haven’t you? For how you grew up. For one of your people.’”

The reception to Waititi’s comments has been expansive. People online share their own experiences of racism they had experienced in New Zealand – one particular thread highlighted the disrespectful language used in their work place against Maori people, and wider examples of racism and xenophobia.

“Taika Waititi: a uniquely talented, wildly successful, universally adored Māori man who refuses to play The Good Ambassador,” another user tweeted. 

Another added: “Is NZ racist? It depends who you believe – Taika Waititi, or the people yelling at him to be more grateful”

The country’s race relations commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, praised his comments.

“I hear those stories every day in my role as race relations commissioner,” she said on TVNZ’s Breakfast show. “These are things that happen every day in our communities. And good on Taika for having the courage to speak up and tell the truth.”

“He said first and foremost we live in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. We also live in one of the most peaceful, and yes we have an issue with racism. We need to start having those hard conversations about racism, and that's what he's doing, if we want to improve as a country.”

On New Zealand’s AM show, broadcaster Duncan Garner said he “did not agree with him”.

"This guy... he's gone too far, it's too extreme. Lighten up, and change the record. Come home and re-introduce yourself to your country. It's a great little country that's not without its challenges but we're not as racist as ‘F’.”

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern also responded to the comments. “Is there racism in New Zealand? Undeniably. Is there racism in most countries? Undeniably. Can we do better? Yes.”

Read the entire interview with Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Taika Waititi here.