No celebrity can achieve eternal adoration. It took years of mockery and derision of his work before Keanu Reeves was adopted as the internet’s seemingly unproblematic boyfriend. Tom Hanks is QAnon creeps’ favourite target for no reason (and he also birthed Chet.) Even Dolly Parton had her professional low points. Humans are fickle creatures who are spoiled for choice in the world of entertainment, and we’re prone to discarding the things and people that once brought us such joy. Sometimes, we do it more virulently than is recommended, as many a former child star can attest to. Other times, more often than not, it’s just a symptom of tedium, a sign that we’re done with the hot flavour of the moment. It’s such an inevitability that we talk about it long before it actually happens, and said conversations only further fuel the discourse. The subject of the week: Taika Waititi.
Taika Waititi is a very big deal. He’s a filmmaker whose works have a combined gross of well over $1.5 billion. He’s only the second indigenous person to win a competitive Oscar. As well as directing, he’s a writer, actor, and producer whose name carries a lot of clout in Hollywood. Over the past year alone, he’s released Thor: Love and Thunder, starred in Our Flag Means Death and History of the World, Part II, made a viral vodka ad with Daniel Craig, co-hosted an MTV awards show, and appeared on the cover of Vogue. He’s got a new movie and TV show dropping this year, and is attached to more projects than Guillermo del Toro. Last year, he got married to singer Rita Ora, and now they’re flexing their wannabe power couple muscles on the cover of Vogue.
ðŸ“¸ Taika Waititi and Rita Ora photographed by Robbie Fimmano for Vogue Australia pic.twitter.com/qvarStOD1k— The Taika Archives (@TaikaArchives) May 30, 2023
Clearly, this dude is popular, so why is it that, every time I see him mentioned on social media, people seem done with him? Has The Backlash come for Taika? He recently went viral after a self-deprecating comment about his future in Hollywood, wherein he joked that nobody would remember him in the same way that nobody remembers who directed Casablanca, was taken out of context and lambasted. It’s tough to avoid sneers that he’s now gotten irritating or always was, and his marriage to Rita Ora has inspired cries of overexposure. It didn’t help matters that Thor: Love and Thunder received middling reviews and was easily the weakest film he’s ever made (and perhaps the most poorly directed.) All in all, it’s pretty standard celebrity gossip stuff. There’s no big scandal, no rumours swirling in the margins of social media. People just seem sick of him. Seems pretty normal, right? Well…
Taika Waititi spending the day getting kicked around film Twitter because he made the inarguable point that most people don’t know who directed CASABLANCA is why you never start a sentence with “Nobody” or “Everyone”— Sam Adams (@SamuelAAdams) June 1, 2023
I feel about the term ‘backlash’ the same I do with the concept of the ‘snub’ in awards season. It implies an active kind of ferocity that often gives the people involved more credit than they deserve. Organised hate is a painfully real phenomenon, especially online, but most celeb backlash, in whatever form it takes, feels almost mundane in its machinations. We like things, we get bored of them, we move on. Of course, indifference has no home on Twitter, so instead we get the typical smarmy furore of people eager to inform the world that they never liked the person in question or always got bad vibes from them. There’s no real way to discuss the nuances of a celebrity’s ongoing narrative without fuelling, intentionally or otherwise, the most corrosive parts of those conversations.
Waititi is visible to the public in a way most directors aren’t, in part because he’s also an actor and a personality and someone who clearly enjoys the spotlight. He’s eager to sell not only himself to the world as a major figure but as one half of a celebrity couple, thanks to Ora, an omnipresent singer-actor-presenter who seems to be everywhere yet never has any ardent fans. Their hustle is evident, which might be what puts off many. Stardom requires intense labour but the intention is to make it seem effortless. Waititi’s image is one of immense confidence, undercut with goofy self-awareness that allows him be both the goof and the hero (he’s also mega fucking hot, which does not hurt.) It’s not surprising how quickly that wears thin for some people, given that earnestness possesses a depressingly short shelf life for many. Consider the backlash against Lin-Manuel Miranda, another man of colour whose unbridled enthusiasm and proud corniness seemed like kryptonite to social media, where sardonic apathy is the default mode.
You can get away with more when the work is good. Waititi is remarkably consistent in his output as a film director, and he’s used his increased industry power to get a lot of diverse, prickly, and cutting stuff made, such as Reservation Dogs. But Waititi Backlash means a re-examination of previously acclaimed projects. Prior criticisms of Jojo Rabbit have been greatly amplified, and more focus has fallen on the evident weaknesses in Thor: Love and Thunder. The latter proved to be an especially disappointing display of Waititi’s abilities, with his comedy falling flat and basic framing doing little to hide shoddy CGI and green-screen effects. The director is never truly divorced from his work, regardless of the amount of studio micromanaging involved, but with Marvel projects in particular, it doesn’t feel accurate to entirely shunt the blame of Love and Thunder onto Waititi. It’s certainly a massive step down from Ragnarok but its failings are also pure MCU, the inevitable end results of a studio overworking and underpaying its VFX team. The stifling limitations put upon talented filmmakers by a company that doesn’t want them to be themselves is a no-win situation in many ways. That Waititi has ever been able to put his stamp on these IPs is a minor miracle.
The much-maligned Casablanca quote is actually a moment where Waititi taps into the reality of celebrity. We’re all flashes in the pan on some level. Even the most adored among us won’t be preserved in amber forever. You can hope to be remembered by some but it’s okay not to be enshrined by all. Frankly, it’s probably a healthier way for someone like Waititi to view his current A-List status than hoping he can ride that wave for the rest of his life. It’s kind-of miraculous that he’s held onto his spot this long given the preferred anonymity of the Marvel machine and the lack of multi-hyphenates working both in front of and behind the camera. Of course, you can afford to be humble when you’re rich and the living is good. And it is good for him, with Next Goal Wins set for a fall release and in evitable festival rollout.
Taika Waititi is famous, good-looking, often very good at his job behind and in front of the camera, and he’s everywhere, a level of famous that seldom happens for indigenous figures in entertainment. For me, I just wish I was more excited by his future projects (and that his team would stop trying to make Ora/Waititi - Ortiti? Waia? - happen.) This is all a roundabout way of saying that fame is a fickle beast and it’s no surprise when the tides turn. You don’t have to love a celebrity - ragging on the rich and famous is one of our true rights as humans on this bloody internet - but I always think it’s helpful to know why narratives shift and the reasons for doing so.