The film is based on Christine Leunens’ 2004 book Caging Skies.
He was up against Steven Zaillian (The Irishman), Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (Joker), Greta Gerwig (Little Women) and Anthony McCarten (The Two Popes) for the honor.
After noting that the trophy was light, Waititi thanked his mother. “Thank you for being my mother and for many other reasons,” he said. “For giving me the book that I adapted. This film wouldn’t have existed without you doing that.”
He then thanked Leunens and the producers Carthew Neal and Chelsea Winstanley because “they were there right from the beginning.”
Waititi added that there were other people that he wanted to thank, “but I won’t because I don’t remember.”
“This is really great. I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids that live in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories. We are the original storytellers and we can make it here, as well,” he added.
He concluded his speech with the Maori greeting “kia ora,” which is an expression of thanks.
Following his speech, Waititi spoke to reporters backstage about informing the author that he had taken creative liberties with the script. “I was about a quarter of the way through the book when I talked to her, and I was pretty up front with my intentions. And she had seen my other films so she was pretty aware that I’m incapable of making a drama,” he recalled.
He then reflected on working with children. “I worked with kids in most of my films, so I’m pretty used to it. I audition kids looking for a child who resembles the character,” he said. “They don’t have to act, they just have to remember the words and say them as fast as possible. That’s acting.”
Waititi also commented on the political timeliness of the film. “I feel like the film has become more important and more relevant today — which is a sad thing. But also good for me,” he said.
The Jojo Rabbit director is the first Maori person to win an Oscar. He is the first indigenous person to be nominated and to win in the best adapted screenplay category.
Canadian-American singer-songwriter Buffy Saint-Marie, who won the best original song category in 1982, is the only other indigenous person to ever win an Oscar.
Waititi and his wife, Chelsea Winstanley, who is also of M?ori heritage, are also the first Indigenous producers to receive a nomination in the best picture category. Additionally, M?ori production designer Ra Vincent was a fellow indigenous nominee for his work in the film.
The 2020 Oscars took place at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood and was televised on ABC. The ceremony was hostless for the second year in a row.