In a recent Unpacked Tik Tok, we bragged about some of our favorite celebs who are Jewish.
Among them was Taika Waititi — and some people were totally shocked. Yes, he is Jewish!
Here are some things to know about his Jewish identity:
He’s a Cohen
Taika Waititi was born Taika David Cohen on 16 August 1975 in Raukokore, New Zealand.
His mother is Ashkenazi
His mother, Robin Cohen is an Ashkenazi Jew and his father is of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Māori descent.
His mother’s family were Russian Jews “mixed with a bit of Irish” and other European ancestry, while his father’s side was “Māori and a little bit of French Canadian,” Waititi said in a podcast interview.
You probably know him as Taika Waititi, but he used to go by Cohen
At the start of his career, he alternated between using the names Taika Cohen (his mother’s last name) and Taika Waititi (his father’s).
“I’ve used both names throughout my life, for different things. ‘Cohen’ has always been what I’ve used for my acting, writing and the stuff to do with theatre,” he said, “and ‘Waititi’ is what I’ve used for my art, painting and photography. For all the visual arts stuff, as opposed to all the performing.”
He was raised primarily by his mom
Taika’s parents split when he was 5 years old, and he grew up with his mom.
On Father’s Day he posted a photo to Instagram with his mom and captioned it: “Happy Father’s Day, Mum! #BestDadEver.”
She was the one who gave him the inspiration for Jojo Rabbit
Taika wrote, directed, and starred in Jojo Rabbit an “anti-hate satire” about a ten-year-old Hitler Youth member who finds out that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl.
The idea for the film was born in 2010, when his mother gave him Christine Leunens’ novel “Caging Skies.” Taika was tired of World War II stories that were told through the perspectives of soldiers and survivors.
Jojo Rabbit has won and been nominated for multiple awards including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 92nd Academy Awards.
Here’s what inspired him to create something totally different:
His grandfather fought against Nazi’s in World War II
“I have always been drawn to stories that see life through children’s eyes. In this case, it happens to be a kid that we might not normally invest in,” he wrote in the dedication of Jojo Rabbit’s production notes.
“My grandfather fought against the Nazis in World War II and I’ve always been fascinated by that time and those events. When my mother told me about Christine Leunen’s book Caging Skies, I was drawn in by the fact it was told through the eyes of a German child indoctrinated into hate by adults.”
“Having children of my own, I have become even more aware that adults are supposed to guide children through life and raise them to be better versions of themselves, and yet in times of war, adults are often doing the opposite. In fact, from a child’s point of view, during these times adults appear chaotic and absurd when all the world needs is guidance and balance.”
He experienced prejudice growing up as a Māori Jew
“I experienced a certain level of prejudice growing up as a Māori Jew,” he continued. “So making Jojo Rabbit has been a reminder, especially now, that we need to educate our kids about tolerance and continue to remind ourselves that there’s no place in this world for hate. Children are not born with hate, they are trained to hate.”
The humor in Jojo Rabbit is a new way of vowing “never again.”
“I hope the humour in Jojo Rabbit helps engage a new generation; it’s important to keep finding new and inventive ways of telling the horrific story of World War II again and again for new generations, so that our children can listen, learn, and move forward, unified into the future.
Here’s to putting an end to ignorance and replacing it with love.”
It’s the biggest “FU” to Hitler, Taika believes.
In what may have come as a surprise to some audiences, Taika himself starred as Hitler in Jojo Rabbit.
“What better way to insult Hitler than having him portrayed by a Polynesian Jew?,” he said.
Jojo Rabbit faced criticism, and Taika thinks it would have been far less if he still went by Taika Cohen
In an interview with Variety, Taika said it seemed many viewers of the film did not realize he was Jewish, and criticism of the movie would have been more muted if they had realized it.
“They did a press screening with a lot of Jewish press, and a lot of the comments were ‘I wish we’d known that he was Jewish before we’d watched the movie'” he explained.
In what is a good reminder to others in the Jewish community about making assumptions, Taika said:
“It feels almost like buying into it, if you start considering the fact that you might have to put on the poster: “Don’t worry, the director’s Jewish!” Or: “I know how you’re feeling. Just watch it.”
Originally Published Oct 25 2021 10:17PM EDT