Taika Waititi, New Zealand’s much-adored filmmaker and person of the year, has weighed in in a recent interview to note the country is “racist as fuck”.
In the Dazed interview alongside Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson, Waititi reflected on racial profiling, and disrespect for Te Reo Māori.
“Growing up it was very normal to go into a store and they would say, ‘What do you want?’ And you’d be like, (muttering) ‘I’m just looking at chips, man.’ I remember getting a job at a dairy and they would never give me a job at the till, I was always at the back washing vegetables,” he says.
When the interviewer says they have an “idealised vision of New Zealand as like Australia without the racism,” Waititi responds: “Nah, it’s racist as fuck. I mean, I think New Zealand is the best place on the planet, but it’s a racist place. People just flat-out refuse to pronounce Māori names properly. There’s still profiling when it comes to Polynesians.”
So is he right? Waititi’s comments on profiling are certainly reflected in the data surrounding NZ’s treatment of Maori and Pacific citizens. As VICE has previously reported, Māori young people are three times more likely to be arrested than their Pākehā peers. Meanwhile, Pacific New Zealanders are twice as likely as likely as Pākehā to be apprehended, prosecuted, and convicted, and almost two-and-a-half times more likely to receive a custodial sentence or be remanded in custody. In past years, there’s been strong evidence of racism in the police force: a Victoria University study which interviewed more than 700 police officers, almost half said they were more likely to pull over a 'flash' car if it had a Māori driver. Almost 70 percent of officers reported they heard racist language used about suspects or offenders "sometimes or often". Thirty-one percent said they were more likely to suspect a Māori person of a crime. Eighteen percent said they were more likely to stop someone of Māori descent and ask what they were doing if they were out late at night. A report by the Department of Corrections shows a higher likelihood for Māori offenders to have police contact; be charged; lack legal representation; not be granted bail; plead guilty; be convicted; be sentenced to non-monetary penalties; and be denied release to Home Detention.
This is not Waititi’s first time pointing out New Zealand’s issues. Last year he said he was “not proud of New Zealand,” citing dirty rivers, depression, teen suicide rates, housing crisis and child poverty as ongoing problems.
Some members of the New Zealand commentariat are famously sensitive about any shadows cast over the country’s reputation. Broadcaster Duncan Garner has called Waititi “treasonous” for some of his remarks. “I reckon he's thrown New Zealand under the bus.”
Incidentally, one of Garner's columns was recently ruled in breach by Press Council, who concluded "despite the writer's protestations to the contrary, his approach can only be seen as gratuitous racism".