Taika Waititi on the Importance of Comedy in Learning History

Taika Waititi might be best-known as director of hits at the box office. Thor: Ragnarok. But the multi-hyphenate—he’s also an actor, writer, producer, and TV creator—can’t easily be put in a box as just a blockbuster auteur; he is just as comfortable working on indie projects.

His style as an filmmaker, however, is a unpredictable mixture of light and darkness. In a free-wheeling conversation with TIME’s Molly Ball at the 2022 TIME100 Summit on Tuesday, Waititi shared some insight into why comedy is the right vehicle to deliver important messages.

“In terms of telling a story, it’s the best we have,” he said of comedy projects: they make audiences let their guards down. He made a 2019 film that is unique and personal. Jojo Rabbit was a good example of this approach, he explained: “In terms of Holocaust stories, they need to keep being told, but we need different approaches to them. If we never change or pivot or try a new direction, the story gets old.” (Waititi also referenced a statistic that the majority of young people in the U.S. are undereducated about the Holocaust, even though it took place fewer than 100 years ago.) “If we’re not retelling these stories… it will happen again,” he said. “We have to adjust the narrative to suit the audience.”

Waititi made his audience laugh by sharing his thoughts on his childhood in New Zealand’s tiny towns, his Jewish roots and his Maori roots and the meaning of being an indigenous filmmaker. “If you call yourself an indigenous filmmaker, you don’t always have to put a tribal person in your film playing a wind flute on a mountain talking to the ghost of your grandmother,” he said. “I don’t go around talking to trees or riding whales,” he joked. “If I want to know something or get some advice from an ancestor, I can Google it… We’ve got to normalize ourselves and demystify what it is to be native, because it’s pretty normal.”

Some of Waititi’s recent projects include Our Flag Means Death, an HBO Max show that is ostensibly about 17th century pirates—but actually, as he said, “about what it is to be a man,” and Reservation Dogs, a FX show that is “breaking out of the mold of traditional ways of seeing Native American onscreen.” Next up: the hotly-anticipated Marvel sequel Thor: Love and ThunderIt will be available in July.

TIME100 Summit, an extension to the TIME100 annual list of influential people around the globe is a live event. This summit gathers global leaders from TIME100 to discuss solutions and promote action for a better world. This year’s summit at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City features a variety of impactful speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.

Speakers for the 2022 TIME100 Summit include Apple CEO Tim Cook, producer Mindy Kaling, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, musician Jon Batiste, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dwyane Wade, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, ‘me too’ founder Tarana Burke, ACLU deputy director for transgender justice Chase Strangio, founder and creative director Christian Siriano, Brother Vellies founder and creative director Aurora James, Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria, author and poet Cathy Park Hong, Olympic freestyle skiing champion Eileen Gu, filmmaker Betsy West, filmmaker Julie Cohen, BioNTech SE senior vice president Dr. Katalin Karikó, Ukrayinska Pravda Sevgil Mushieva is editor-in-chief, TIME chair and Salesforce chair co-CEO Marc Benioff.

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