Thor: Ragnarok is not your average superhero movie – with a budget of $180 million and a star-studded cast featuring Cate Blanchett, Chris Hemsworth, and Tom Hiddleston, it was one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the year. Normally, such projects are automatically assigned to white male directors but this time Disney-Marvel decided to opt for Taika Waititi, an indigenous New Zealand filmmaker, hitherto known for critically acclaimed indie comedies such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) and Eagle vs Shark (2007).
Box office figures and audience responses show that Waititi was definitely the right choice – Thor: Ragnarok raked in $650 million globally (more than the previous two Thor films), becoming the ninth biggest international release of 2017. Furthermore, it currently has the very impressive 8,2 rating on IMDB, as well as 73% on Metascore – a remarkable feat for a superhero film.
In addition to helming the hugely successful multimillion project, Waititi worked hard to include indigenous representation, while also securing opportunities for aspiring local filmmakers. The shooting for Thor: Ragnarok commenced in New Zealand over the summer and Waititi ensured that the local indigenous people were involved in the production as much as possible, and treated with respect by the cast and crew. He invited members of the Yugambeh mob to perform a “Welcome to Country,” and explained that one shouldn’t “start a movie in New Zealand without asking the local tribe to come in and bless you and send you to work with some good mojo. Especially if you’re on their land, you’re in their backyard.”
He also hired an indigenous company to supply water for the set and created opportunities for native moviemakers to participate in the filming process, either by observing the shooting or by getting actual on-set work experience. As a result, eight indigenous interns were recruited in fields ranging from stunt work to set design. Māori and native Australian actors were also included in the film, and Waititi encouraged the costume designers to use local native art as inspiration, while taking care that they do not cross the line into appropriation: “You need to follow-up by saying ‘don’t copy that, but use it as inspiration’, he explained, ‘because the next thing you know you have 50 people who have appropriated all these like beautiful ancient designs without asking what they mean, or who owns them, or for any permission.”
Waititi also made sure to include plenty of subtle Easter eggs which are obvious only to those familiar with indigenous culture. One example is the color scheme of two aircrafts used in the film – they are painted with the colors of the Aboriginal flag and the Tino Rangatiratanga flag.
‘I wanted to fill it with a few in-jokes and things for Kiwis and Australians,’ Waititi explained. ‘For me, anyway, it would just ground me…so while I’m making this giant Marvel movie I could look around and go, ‘That spaceship – that’s painted with the Aboriginal flag colors. No one else knows that but us.’