Earlier this month, Taika Waititi released his latest film, Next Goal Wins. Inspired by true events, it tells the story of a Dutch-American coach leading American Sāmoa's soccer team — considered the worst in the world — as they train to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
As a Sāmoan woman myself, I was thrilled to see a Sāmoan film hit the big screen! While certainly making strides in recent years, Pacific Islander representation in media has a long way to go, and movies like this are a huge leap forward for us.
However, I was taken aback by the performance of a Māori haka at the LA movie premiere. For those who don't know, the Māori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand) — a country over 2,000 miles away from American Sāmoa.
Don't get me wrong — you can often find me crying over the beautiful and emotional haka videos that show up on my TikTok page. But seeing the Ka Mate haka performed at the premiere of one of the first Sāmoan movies in Hollywood? It made me wonder if the people in charge of the event even realized there's a difference between Māori and Sāmoan cultures.
And I wasn't the only one who felt confused and disappointed. Many social media users shared their thoughts online, with some wondering if the haka was chosen simply because Taika is Māori:
Some worried that people watching the clip would think the haka is a tradition for all Pacific Islanders:
And some Sāmoans shared alternatives that might've been more appropriate for the premiere, while this Māori person said, "A haka was not the right choice for this event":
One of the people who spoke out was Pula Aynsley Broom, a 30-year-old Sāmoan woman who recently received her matai (chief) title. The Nashville-based marketing manager and content creator also runs a blog dedicated to Pasifika issues. In a TikTok video, she said, "With this film being specifically American Sāmoan/Sāmoan, I don't know why it's being opened up with a haka."
To dive deeper into this issue, I reached out to Aynsley. She said the haka from the premiere popped up on her social media, and her immediate reaction was pride, due to Taika's involvement with the movie. "I kept waiting further in the night to see if they would eventually do anything else that was Sāmoa-related, considering this is a Sāmoan film. When I saw that they didn’t, I was disappointed."
"If the film had opened in Aotearoa (New Zealand), I would totally understand," she continued. "However, this film is Sāmoan at its core. That’s not to say they shouldn’t do the haka, but now there’s going to be this perception that Sāmoans and Māori are interchangeable when that’s not the case. Māori have their beautiful culture and traditions, and we have ours. Treating us like a monolith like this feels like erasure."
When asked which Sāmoan tradition she'd have liked to see at the premiere instead, Aynsley replied, "I don’t think it necessarily has to be 'instead of' but maybe 'in addition to' the haka." She suggested a siva, taualuga, or Siva Tau — all dances that would have honored the Sāmoan spirit of the film. "These are traditional in Sāmoa. They do a Siva Tau in the film, so I don’t understand why they couldn’t have opened up the premiere with one."
Aynsley said she's already witnessing the consequences unfolding: people sharing the Sāmoan Siva Tau clip on social media with captions like "Next Goal Wins haka" or "Check out the haka in Next Goal Wins." A quick Google search revealed the Siva Tau clip was often mislabeled as a haka on YouTube, too.
As for future Pacific Islander representation, she hopes to see an increased focus on women — not just onscreen, but writers and directors, too. "Our women are often overlooked. And if you look at Hollywood, you see our men bring each other up, but where are our women? They are there... It’s just who will finally be willing to fight for them, just as they support each other?"
Additionally, she'd love to see PI rep grow to a level where characters are portrayed by actors of specific island heritages. In Next Goal Wins, she noticed Sāmoan, Tongan, Māori, and Native Hawaiian actors, and she wondered why the casting directors didn't just cast Sāmoans to play Sāmoans. "I hope this film is the launching pad for more of our films, and we are able to see more and better representation."
"I will also close with this: Our people come from small islands, but we are large in our pride for our culture and history. When we see something off, we are going to speak up, but that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to support one another. While there were some things that could’ve been improved on, I think Next Goal Wins was great, and everyone can enjoy it for years to come," she concluded.
If you're interested in learning more about Pacific Islander issues, follow Aynsley on TikTok and Instagram!
BuzzFeed has reached out to a representative of Taika for comment.