Taika Waititi Believes Comedy Is a Great Way to Say ‘You’re Racist’
What’s the best way to tell your friends that they’re racist? Make them laugh, apparently.
On the topic of taboo subjects, Taika Waititi doesn’t tip-toe around them — he tap dances through them, gleefully mining comedy gold about genocide and misery along the way. In Jojo Rabbit, Waititi’s most critically lauded project to date, which landed him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, the Maori-Jewish filmmaker’s flippant-but-poignant approach to sensitive subject matter was plainly apparent in his playfully prancing performance as the title character’s imaginary friend Adolf Hitler, which played like it was pulled straight out of The Producers.
In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, the actor-director-producer discussed his ability to engage with prejudice in the context of comedy. Said Waititi, “Comedy is a great way of pulling people in and going, ‘Hey, we’re all friends. Get comfortable. You’re racist.’”
Within the context of the interview, Waititi’s line reads as facetious as his work does when it comes to issues of injustice, but the apprehension and tightening of an audience to the suggestion that they themselves could be the problem is a topic that weighs heavily on his mind. “People check themselves and they go, ‘Am I allowed to laugh at this?’” Waititi said of his many Holocaust jokes and jabs at the British colonial mindset. “They have to google if they’re allowed to. And sometimes you shouldn’t laugh at some stuff. You’ve got to navigate it.”
Talking about Jojo Rabbit, Waititi explained, “People were really unsure if they should laugh until about 20 minutes into the film. One issue they had was like, ‘Well, I wish I’d known that I was allowed to laugh.’ Another issue was, ‘I wish I’d known that he was Jewish before I went in.’“
While Waititi acknowledges that an audience’s ability to laugh at dark humor uncomfortably hinges on the identity of the artist responsible for the joke, he does believe that personal experiences should play a part in parsing through what is and isn’t “acceptable” from an audience’s perspective. His most notable upcoming project, Next Goal Wins, tells the true story of the American Samoan soccer team through the point-of-view of their caucasian coach, and Waititi wonders how the story would be handled in the hands of another director with less lived experience in the setting.
“Some European director coming into the islands and then poking fun at the way things work, I’d have an issue with that,” he stated. “But I think because I’m from Polynesia, it’s okay.”
As for the rest of us, if I’m understanding Waititi correctly, our laughter will tell the true tale.