Taika Waititi

On this date in 1975, actor and filmmaker Taika Waititi (né Taika David Cohen) was born in Raukokore on New Zealand’s North Island. His father, now deceased, was an artist of Māori descent. His mother, Robin Cohen, has Russian-Jewish heritage and taught school. He originally used his mother’s surname for his work in film and writing and his father’s, Waititi, for his visual arts endeavors, i.e., painting, photography and book illustration.

Waititi has called himself a “Polynesian Jew” more connected to his Māori roots in a household where Judaism was not actively practiced. He told the Wall Street Journal in 2022 that he puts more stock in Indigenous beliefs, which include gods representing natural elements. “Our gods are more like the Greek gods. There are stories behind them and they mess with mortals.” 

His parents separated when he was 5 and he was raised mainly by his mother. After secondary school, he joined a comedy troupe at Victoria University of Wellington, where he studied theater, earned a B.A. in 1997 and started making short films. “Two Cars, One Night” (2003) garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Live Action Short Film. “Boy” (2010) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Waititi co-wrote, co-directed and starred with Jemaine Clement in the horror mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows” (2014), adapted in 2019 for an Emmy-nominated TV series. His directing credits include the Marvel superhero films “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) and “Thor: Love and Thunder” (2022) as well as the black comedy “Jojo Rabbit” (2019), in which he played Adolf Hitler, the protagonist’s imaginary friend. It received six Oscar nominations and won for Best Adapted Screenplay. “Love and Thunder” built on the Thor storyline conceived by writer Jason Aaron.

Waititi incorporates his Māori heritage into many of his projects. With Sterlin Harjo, a Seminole Nation citizen, he created “Reservation Dogs,” an Indigenous American teen TV series filmed in Oklahoma that debuted on Hulu/FX in 2021. The recipient of critical acclaim, including a Peabody Award, it was renewed for a second season in 2022.

Waititi was in a relationship with New Zealand actress and writer Loren Horsley for 10 years. He married film producer Chelsea Winstanley in 2011. They had two daughters, Te Hinekahu and Matewa Kiritapu, before separating in 2018.

“I’m a Christian,” he announced on Twitter on March 31, 2013, then tweeted, “April Fools’, I’m not a Christian.” He says he doesn’t like to make people uncomfortable about faith. “If it helps you spiritually, and to understand your place in the world, absolutely, by all means. And as an atheist, I still sometimes go, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ Just in case it’s all true.” (Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2022) 

PHOTO: Waititi at the 2019 San Diego Comic Con International ; Gage Skidmore photo under CC 3.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation