Boy, written and directed by Taika Waititi, is a beautiful New Zealand film about an 11 year old Māori child’s search for his “potential”. His name is Boy and he loves Michael Jackson. The film is set in 1984 and takes place in the scenic community of Waihau Bay on the eastern coast of New Zealand. Boy lives with his grandmother, younger brother Rocky and cousins and takes care of them when she is away. The two siblings grew up without their father Alamein’s presence because he was imprisoned for his involvement in criminal activity. Boy’s father is his hero and is the subject of his many valiant fantasies as a deep sea diver, star football player and military legend and so on. Alamein suddenly returns after a seven year absence heavily disrupting Boy’s life.
Themes and Context
Boy explores themes of childhood, innocence, influence, duty and integrity and is at times, humorous, playful, serious and heavy. The film is a fiction and uses a chronological narrative employing the classical filmmaking model of Continuity editing defined by Berliner and Cohen as “a system of editing devices that establish a continuous presentation of space and time” .
Waititi’s film makes use of the gorgeous landscape with a multitude of shots and camera angles and successfully gives the viewer an immersive experience. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and competed in the “World Cinema Narrative” category. This film is a representation of Māori reality as it would have been in the 1980s within a globalized and colonial context and Boy’s obsession with Michael Jackson demonstrates a portrayal of the spread of Western culture within that time period.
Despite the Māori context and location of Waititi’s film, Boy appears to be stripped of indigenous culture and spirituality. The story of Boy could have taken place in any country or community because the themes discussed are common to all people regardless of ethnicity, culture or spirituality. This viewpoint is shared by Variety film critic Peter Debruge who writes “apart from the local vistas and mostly Māori cast, Waititi has scrubbed away all culturally specific traits from his growing-up-Kiwi comedy, concentrating instead on the same things that might infatuate any other 1984-era moppet: a schoolyard crush, a missing dad and, above all, Michael Jackson”. On the other hand, Hardy argues that “Waititi uses kitsch aesthetics and a comic tone to deflect spiritual pretension in the film” which would suggest Waititi’s choices of cultural appropriation and omission to be a deliberate strategy.
Waititi repeatedly uses parody in this film when the viewer glimpses into Boy’s fantasies about his father. Boy spends the majority of the film in denial of Alamein’s true self, preferring his imaginary idealised father with superhuman capability and King-of-Pop dance moves. These sequences often contain parodies of Michael Jackson’s performances and videos. I believe that this strategy is used to evoke a...