Taika Waititi Explained Why He Thinks The Word Diversity Is "Wrong" In Hollywood, And He's Got A Point
“That's not reality, and it's not authentic. I never grew up with a group of friends where there was someone who represented every ethnic group in my group of friends. I don't know who the hell grew up like that.”
Last Thursday, Taika Waititiaddressed Hollywood's misconception of diversity and how the industry should actually be going about diversification in a humorously disarming, 13-minute speech at a luncheon hosted by The Hollywood Reporter.
Beginning his speech with an acknowledgment of the WGA’s writers strike, Taika joked that he hadn't written anything in advance for his keynote — though he later 'fessed up to some notes ("Is it breaking the rules if I wrote bullet points?") — and instead asked ChatGPT: "Hello. Can you please explain to me how Hollywood is failing to address and remedy the issue of diversity and inclusivity in film and television?"
Immediately, the artificial intelligence chatbot responded with several key points: Lack of representation, whitewashing and stereotyping, limited opportunities, pay and compensation disparities, tokenism, performative activism, lack of authentic representation, and gatekeeping and industry practices — or, as Taika called them, the obvious ones. "If AI can do that in eight seconds," Taika then posed, "what's taking so long?"
He went on to discuss Hollywood's idea of diversification and why it's both wrong and confusing. "We're mistaking [diversification] for we have to include a person from every single race, and every single background, and every single part of the human experience in every show or everything that we make," he said. "That's not reality, and it's not authentic. I never grew up with a group of friends where there was someone who represented every ethnic group in my group of friends. I don't know who the hell grew up like that."
Rather than focus on diversification, Taika explained that Hollywood should strive to "decolonize the screen," a term coined by his mentor, Merata Mita, a trailblazing Māori filmmaker and activist who spearheaded the growth of Māori filmmaking. ("I'm blaze-trailing her," he quipped.) Merata is both the first woman and the first indigenous woman to solely direct and write a dramatic feature film in New Zealand.
Subsequently, Taika said it's not necessary or sensible to include a character of color in a story out of obligation. "It has to make sense," he stressed, otherwise, it becomes tokenism. More broadly, he discussed the need to decolonize Hollywood beyond the characters on-screen and emphasized the need for diverse showrunners.
"I don't want to see one token Polynesian character in your show. What I want to see is a fully Polynesian-controlled, Polynesian story that's written by and show run by [Polynesian people]. Don't give us a white showrunner to tell us the rules and tell us how to do things. Let us figure it out," he said. "And by decolonizing the screen, what I mean is just don't make it so white."
To illustrate his point, Taika called out different shows that predominantly feature casts of one race or culture and focus on specific stories, such as Beef, Atlanta, and ReservationDogs (which Taika co-created). Taika, who is Māori and Jewish, expressed that he could see himself in these stories because of the shared experience of being minorities — "people who have been fighting and having to raise our voices for hundreds of years."
Reinforcing this point, Taika continued, "Another colonial trick is to pit us against each other. Who had it worse, you know? 'Oh, yeah, but you didn't have it bad until 1759.' 'Well, you didn't have it bad until 1492.' It doesn't matter. We all had it bad. And the trick that they like to do is be like, 'Well, you fight it out amongst yourselves who had it worse, and then you get in line for who gets to have representation.'"
Taika then confronted Hollywood's expectation for people of color to "fix things" and constantly engage in conversations about diversity and inclusion when the responsibility lies with white Hollywood and those in power. Cheekily breaking the fourth wall, he added, "All of us want to be working and not having to come and do fucking panels and speeches in the middle of our day."
"It's like someone coming into your house, stealing all your shit and burning your house down, and then saying, 'Okay, we need to have a talk about this,' and, 'Now, you're going to rebuild your house,' and, 'What can we give you to help you rebuild your house that we burned down?'" he compared. "You build the fucking house, you burned it down. I'll come back, and, hopefully, you get it right. If you don't get it right, then we'll try again."
Building off of his analogy, Taika acknowledged that fixing diversity in Hollywood won't happen overnight and that Hollywood won't always get it right — but that's okay and to be expected so long as the industry strives to make authentic efforts until it succeeds.
On a final note, Taika shared that Succession — a story about "rich white people" — is one of his favorite shows before tying it back to his original point about Hollywood's misconception of diversity. "I don't want to see other people from every other culture in this show," he concluded. "[Succession] works because it's that. You can have a white show, great, but have other shows as well, not just those ones."
Watch Taika's full speech — including more clever jokes and insightful points — here: