Taika Waititi

Taika David Cohen , known professionally as Taika Waititi, is a New Zealand film director, producer, screenwriter, actor, and comedian. He is the recipient of an Academy Award as well as two further nominations.
His feature films Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople have each been the top-grossing New Zealand film, with the latter still holding that title as of April 2020. He co-directed and starred in the horror comedy film What We Do in the Shadows with Jemaine Clement. Waititi's most recent directing credits include the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film and the satirical black comedy film Jojo Rabbit, the latter of which he also wrote and starred in as Adolf Hitler. Jojo Rabbit earned critical praise, receiving a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture and winning Waititi the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Early life

Taika David Cohen was born in Raukokore in the Bay of Plenty Region of New Zealand's North Island, and grew up in both the East Coast and the Aro Valley of Wellington. His father was a Māori farmer and artist of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, whilst his mother, Robin, is a schoolteacher of European descent. Waititi's maternal grandfather is of Russian Jewish heritage and his maternal grandmother is of Irish heritage. He describes himself as a "Polynesian Jew".
Waititi's parents split up when he was around five, and he was raised primarily by his mother. He attended Onslow College for secondary school. He studied theatre at Victoria University of Wellington and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1997. He originally used his mother's surname, Cohen, for his work in film and writing, while his father's surname, Waititi, was used for his visual arts endeavors. He continued to use the name Waititi professionally following the success of his first short film.


Comedy and acting work

While a student at Victoria University, Waititi was part of the five-member ensemble So You're a Man, which toured New Zealand and Australia with some success. He was half of the comedy duo The Humourbeasts alongside Jemaine Clement, which received New Zealand's highest comedy accolade, the Billy T Award, in 1999.
Waititi has also acted on screen since early in his career. He won a local film award for his work as one of the students in the successful low-budget Dunedin film Scarfies and had smaller roles in the road movie Snakeskin and the TV series The Strip. Waititi played Thomas Kalmaku in 2011 superhero film Green Lantern, and took large roles in two of his own films: 2010's Boy and 2014's What We Do in the Shadows, which he co-directed and co-wrote with Jemaine Clement. He also plays Korg, a Kronan, via motion capture in his 2017 superhero film .


Among a variety of artistic interests, Waititi began making comical short films for New Zealand's annual 48-hour film contest. In 2005 his short film Two Cars, One Night earned him an Academy Award nomination. At the awards ceremony, he famously feigned falling asleep as the nominations were being read out. His first feature film, oddball romantic comedy Eagle vs Shark, was released in U.S. theatres for limited distribution in 2007. The film stars Waititi's then real-life partner, Loren Horsley, as Lily. The same year, Waititi wrote and directed one episode of the TV show Flight of the Conchords and was director of another.
His second feature, Boy, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010, and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Waititi also took one of the main roles, as the ex-con father who returns to his family. On its release in New Zealand, Boy received enthusiastic reviews and was successful at the local box office, eclipsing several records. After the success of Boy, Waititi hoped that the film's signature track "Poi E" would get to number one on the New Zealand charts. The song ultimately reached number three on the charts, but managed to become number one on iTunes.
In 2011, Waititi directed New Zealand TV series Super City starring Madeleine Sami, who plays five characters living in one city.
In 2013, Waititi co-wrote and co-directed vampire comedy mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows with friend and fellow comedian Jemaine Clement. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014. Waititi and Clement played members of a group of vampires who live in an appropriately gothic house in modern-day Wellington.
Waititi's fourth feature, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. When it was released in New Zealand, the comedy adventure broke Waititi's own record for a New Zealand film in its opening weekend. Based on a book by Barry Crump, the film centres around a young boy and a grumpy man on the run in the forest.
Waititi wrote the initial screenplay for the 2016 Disney film Moana, which focused on gender and family. Those elements were passed over in favour of what would become the finalised story. In 2017, Waititi won the award for New Zealander of the Year, but was unable to receive it in person due to work commitments.
In 2017, Waititi directed his first major film, Marvel Studios' ', which was released in October. He had previously directed two shorts for Marvel called "Team Thor", which dealt with Thor's living in Australia with his roommate, Darryl Jacobson. Waititi was later consulted by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely regarding Thor's storylines for '.
Waititi was set to collaborate with Mark Gustafson to direct the upcoming stop-motion animated film Bubbles, which was about the life of Michael Jackson seen from the perspective of his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles. However, Waititi left the project in 2019 due to a heavy work schedule.
In 2019, Waititi wrote and directed Jojo Rabbit, based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, the 1940s-set story of a child in the Hitler Youth whose mother is secretly hiding a Jewish girl in the family home. Waititi plays Adolf Hitler as the boy's imaginary friend. For his work on the film, Waititi received two Academy Award nominations, for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, winning the latter. This made him the first person of Maori descent to win an Academy Award in a screenplay category, as well as the first indigenous person to be nominated and to win Best Adapted Screenplay.
In October 2018, Lucasfilm announced that Waititi would be one of the directors of the Star Wars live-action streaming series The Mandalorian, which tells the story of a lone Mandalorian gunfighter in the period between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. The series premiered on 12 November 2019; Waititi also voices a droid bounty hunter named IG-11 in the series. He directed the first season finale episode of The Mandalorian, "".

Upcoming projects

Waititi was reportedly set to direct a new live-action film version of Akira as well as co-write a sequel to What We Do in the Shadows, titled We're Wolves. In July 2019, it was reported that Waititi will write and direct , a sequel to Ragnarok, causing Akira to be delayed indefinitely. Waititi is also set to direct a feature film adaptation of Next Goal Wins; he will co-write the script with Iain Morris, while Garrett Basch, Jonathan Cavendish, Andy Serkis, Mike Brett and Steve Jamison will serve as producers. As of March 2020, Waititi is set to write, direct and executive produce two animated series for Netflix, one based on Roald Dahl's children's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and another focused on the novel's Oompa Loompa characters. In May 2020, it was announced that Waititi is set to direct and co-write an upcoming live-action Star Wars film.
He is also working on a film version of the 2018 novel by Tina Makereti, The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke, which has its title character based on the life of Hemi Pomara.

Personal life

In May 2012, Waititi's wife, Chelsea Winstanley, who is also of Māori descent, gave birth to their first daughter.
Their second daughter was born in August 2015. As of March 2020, it has been reported that Waititi and Winstanley have been separated for two years.
In the run-up to the 2017 New Zealand general election, Waititi announced his support for Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party.



Short films

Acting roles

Other works


Acting roles

Music videos

Waititi has also been a prolific commercial director. He directed Air New Zealand's "The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made" featuring Peter Jackson and Elijah Wood as they go through where The Lord of the Rings films were shot. The commercial went viral amassing over 19 million views on YouTube. Waititi directed Tesco's "Borg" which features a comical Thor-esque character shopping in the supermarket; notably, he went on to direct Marvel Studios' years later.


Critical response

Box office performance

Honours, awards and nominations

In the 2020 Queen's Birthday Honours, Waititi was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to film.