New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi spoken about what everyone can learn from the unapologetic acceptance of the trans community in Samoan culture.
The Our Flag Means Death star has returned to the big screen for his latest directorial project, Next Goal Wins, which premiered at Toronto Film Festival earlier this year and releases in UK cinemas in December.
The feature film, based on a true story and 2014 documentary of the same name, follows an American Samoan football team who turn their rotten luck on the field around under the steady hand of their new coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender).
Next Goal Wins offers rare, and much-needed, onscreen representation of Pacific Islander culture in all its glory. One of the key players in the team is Jaiyah Saelua, a member of the third-gender Samoan community known as fa’afafine, and played by fa’afafine actor Kaimana.
Although Jaiyah plays a major role in the film, screenwriter and producer Waititi didn’t feel the need to “make a big long scene of explaining everything” about the fa’afafine identity for audiences.
‘A sacred and honoured thing’
“It would feel very trendy right now to do especially in Hollywood [to make a bigger deal about Jaiyah’s identity],” Waititi told PRIDE in a new interview discussing the uplifting sports tale.
“In an American filmmaker’s hands, I think you’d have this big speech about, like, ‘It’s okay to be different. And really smash it over the head.”
Instead, Waititi explained that there has long been an acceptance of this community within indigenous culture as a “sacred and an honoured thing.”
The actor and director believes the world – such as Western cultures where the trans identity is coming under increasing attack – could learn something from the Samoan attitude.
“The rest of the world is struggling with the conversation at the moment and figuring out how do we talk about this, and they’re fascinated by what people want to do with their own bodies,” Waititi said.
“Whereas in the Pacific, it’s like, ‘well, that is your body. We actually we need to eat,” he joked. “‘So you do what you want to do as your body. Let’s go on now, we’re gonna go get some food.’ There’s other things to worry about.”
It’s not the first time Waititi has been involved in a project that unapologetically celebrated LGBTQ+ characters. In October, the 48-year-old starred as Captain Blackbeard in season two of HBO’s queer pirate comedy-drama Our Flag Means Death.
The show centres several LGBTQ+ couples and features fan-favourite non-binary pirate Jim Jimenez (Vico Ortiz).
Next Goal Wins arrives in UK cinemas on 26 December, 2023