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Taika Waititi makes Oscars history as first Maori Academy Award winner

Taika Waititi
“Jojo Rabbit” writer-director-actor Taika Waititi.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Taika Waititi has made Oscars history.

At the 92nd Academy Awards Sunday, the “Jojo Rabbit” writer-director-actor took the prize for adapted screenplay. This makes Waititi the first person of Maori descent to win an Oscar. He was the first ever indigenous person to be nominated in the category.

For the record:
1:59 PM, Feb. 13, 2020 This post says Taika Waititi is the first person of Maori descent to win an Oscar. Sound engineer Hammond Peek won Oscars for sound mixing in 2004 and 2006. Waititi is the first Maori Oscar winner in a screenplay category.

“I want to dedicate this to all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance, and write stories,” he said during his acceptance speech. “We are the original storytellers, and we make it here as well. Thank you.”

Starring Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson and Waititi, “Jojo Rabbit” is a WWII-era satire about a boy who discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. This boy also happens to be a Hitler Youth member whose friend is an imaginary Adolf Hitler.

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The film was nominated for six Oscars, including best picture, making Waititi and Chelsea Winstanley, who is also of Maori descent, the first two indigenous producers ever to receive a best picture nod (the married couple share the nomination with Carthew Neal). Waititi was previously nominated for the live action short, “Two Cars, One Night,” at the 77th Academy Awards.

“Jojo Rabbit’s” Maori production designer Rā Vincent was also among this year’s indigenous Oscar nominees. He was previously nominated in the category as the set decorator of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

The first-ever Oscar nominee of Maori descent was Keisha Castle-Hughes. The “Whale Rider” actress was among the best actress nominees at the 76th Academy Awards.

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The only other indigenous person to ever win a competitive Oscar is Buffy Sainte-Marie. She won the original song award in 1982 for “Up Where We Belong” from the film “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

Cherokee American actor Wes Studi received an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in October, in recognition of his career that has spanned more than 30 films, including “Dances With Wolves” and “The Last of the Mohicans.” He is the first and only indigenous person to be recognized with an honorary Oscar.


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