Thor Ragnarok: A Very Indigenous Film
“Farrrr” was what slipped out of my mouth just as the credits of Thor: Ragnarok rolled out. A very Pasifika expression in Australia and New Zealand, a word that fit my experience without the connotations of a swear word; “Farrrr” was all I could say surrounded by my siblings.
Going in, I was really excited. Like, just as excited when the family has a Hāngi and you can’t wait to eat what’s underground, cooking, waiting for you to consume. The same excitement I associate with getting oiled up just before you perform a Tau’olunga, having money thrown at you as a sign of a appreciation. Or just as excited when you’re waiting for your boys, your brothers, the skuxx guys, to perform the haka or a corroboree and you feel that rush of Mana and pride in your people. That’s how excited I was.
From the very beginning, Taika Waititi’s legendary trademark humour just radiates from the opening scene, never wavering throughout the film. Nothing is never not funny or trying too hard at making the audience laugh. It’s all just pure comedy, one unique and well known to Australia and New Zealand (Aotearoa). I grew up immersed in this type of comedy and humour. Comedy is an outlet for a lot of Indigenous folks suffering from colonisation. You will not meet one Māori or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander who isn’t funny. I swear we were all born masters of comedic timing.
On that note, Thor: Ragnarok is very much so an Indigenous film. It is directed by Taika Waititi who is Māori and Jewish. Thor: Ragnarok is a love letter of reassurance and strength to Māori and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, also known as Black people in Australia. The film is a small reflection on our resistance to colonisation and our hardships living through it. There is no aspect of this movie that doesn’t reflect on Indigeneity of both Māori and Black people in Australia. Every detail has some influence from the director’s Indigeneity and from Black people, who’s land it is filmed upon. The way Thor: Ragnarok sweeps across the theatre’s screen looks like it’s inspired by Māori art and designs. The way the contenders on Sakaar brand their armour and bodies with paint is a practise that Indigenous people in both Australia and Aotearoa partake in. The ‘graffiti’ on the walls of the ‘endless circle’, where we’re introduced to Korg, reminded me of our own sacred caves that have beautiful markings scattered against their walls. There are so many layers to this movie that are inspired by Indigenous art and designs.
Korg, played by Taika Waititi himself, was one of the things that I loved most about this film. I guess it’s because of the accent; the very one I code switch back and forth from. I adore it, I love it and I hope to see more Korg in the future. Korg gives me hope for more films to include more Pasifika accents and dialects. I’m still laughing at Korg’s very first revolution that failed because he didn’t make enough pamphlets; what an egg.
Another character who I adored is Scrapper 142, who is widely known as Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson a proud Afro-Latina. Valkyrie represents what it’s like to be Native and resisting colonisation. She is very much so coded as being an Indigenous woman. When looking at the context of where Thor: Ragnarok is filmed and who it’s directed by, Valkyrie can be read as both Black (Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander) and Māori. The way she paints her face is similar to how Black people paint up before dancing, celebrating, welcoming people to country and so much more. As seen below, it is no coincidence her face paint looks familiar to the Black fellas from the Yugambeh mob.
Taika explains in an interview that designers for Thor: Ragnarok were inspired by native art of Australia and New Zealand and was very careful to warn them against crossing the line into appropriation.
“I was very careful in these design meetings,” he said, “You need to follow-up by saying ‘don’t copy that, but use it as inspiration’, 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.”
Valkyrie also has tattoos/markings, just like how Māori people mark their bodies with ink forming stories and giving meanings to shapes and lines that the English language can never perfectly interpret. When you strip her character down, it’s a reflection of the affects of colonisation on First Nations people. Alcoholism, trauma and mental health are topics that affect Indigenous people in both countries. Transgenerational trauma specifically affects us in ways that can never be truly explained in a movie review.
Looking even closer at Valkyrie, you see this sense of displacement, of not knowing or feeling like you are who you are. She is inevitably lost. Her identity is stripped from her, she is in a different land, a prison. Culture makes and sustains identity for Indigenous people and without it, you’re in limbo, you feel like you’ve been drained of Mana, you’ve been drained of what makes you, you. It’s this constant inner battle of trying to know who you are and understanding how you know who you are. Valkyrie’s essence and what makes her Indigenous has been taken away, disrupted. Hence the alcohol, hence the trauma and the layers to her personality. This is what it’s like to be Indigenous. Valkyrie is the embodiment of Black resistance and pain in Australia.
I also personally appreciated the faux English accent Valkyrie had. Why? Because it represented what it’s like to go through colonisation. It represented the stripping of our tongues and the forced assimilation to talk like them. It represented Indigenous people who were never taught their languages, who grew up with settlers and were taught their dialects. That’s why I appreciated it, because it hailed true to the colonial allegories throughout the film. Additionally, Valkyrie was known simply by Scrapper 142. This spoke to me on several levels. It reminded me of the removal of Black children from their homes, thus the removal of their names. It reminded me of the ‘dog tags’ Black people were given. It reminded me of displacement and forced assimilation into a White Australia. How getting a new white name meant you were finally apart of society. That you were finally accepted. But that was never the case. That has never been the case in Australia.
It also reminded me of Don Dale. I thought of those Black boys being beat up, assaulted and more in Don Dale. I thought about them given numbers like other Black Fellas in correction centres. How being referred to as a number further dehumanises you and perpetuates that you are less than human, less than anything.
Then I thought about Māori youths in correctional institutions and their sense of Mana, when you’re constantly referred to as a number, letter or anything that doesn’t represent you. That’s how I interpreted Valkyrie having no name. She’s a strong Māori and Black Indigenous woman in my eyes, who’s name has been stripped from her. I truly hope she is given the agency to give herself her own name, to allow herself to continue resisting colonisation and to stay true to herself and her Indigeneity.
Talking about gaol, Sakaar is pretty much a prison. It also represents the continual displacement of Indigenous people and our diaspora. One thing I choked laughing at was when Jeff Goldblum’s character, Grandmaster, says that he hates the word slaves and Topaz then refers to them as prisoners with jobs. See, slavery was a thing here in Australia. Black people were slaves but everyone seems to have glossed over this fact and have called us servants instead; so pretty much, prisoners with jobs. Again, this scene was a reflection of Indigenous humour, an outlet for resisting colonialism.
Thor: Ragnarok also has a handful of Indigenous actors in the film! Cousin Carlo is played by my favourite gay Black comedian, Steven Oliver. He’s absolutely amazing in Black Comedy! We also have Moana’s Grandmother, Rachel House as Topaz in the film. Her character is what we call, “straight up”. I adored Topaz, just so unique and unlike anybody else in the film. She also has face paint like Valkyrie, but it looks like it’s more inspired by traditional Māori tattoos called Tā Moko. Shari Sebbens, a Black woman, is also in the film; it was so nice to see a sister in there!
One thing I wish was explored in the film was connection to country/connection to land, a concept that exists in Indigenous logic. However, we did get a beautiful one liner, “Asgard is not a place. It never was. It is a people”. It’s a line that stood out the most to me from the film (beside the “This is Des, this ones Troy. Together they make Destroy” line from Skurge). The line has clung onto me, making my mind it’s home, never ever leaving me alone. It’s such a good line, relating back to Indigeneity.
Other things that blew me away at how Indigenous this film was, was the spaceship colours. Valkyries spaceship is in the Tino Rangatiratanga flag colours. I nudged my sister beside me and immediately pointed it out when I saw it. She smiled at the realisation that those colours were familiar to her, to us. Then you have the spaceship the ‘Revengers’ use to escape from Sakaar. It’s in the Aboriginal flag colours!!! So we have a flag that belongs to Black people, a people who are still resisting colonisation, have it’s colours painted over this spaceship escaping Sakaar, going back home, to their roots, to their people. A concept that is truly beautiful when you think about it.
I enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok… wait, nope, let me rephrase; I bloody enjoyed it. Thor: Ragnarok is truly one of the best films I have ever watched. I loved the story and the soundtrack (and I swear I heard some wooden drums in there! Just some more Pasifika flavour to the movie!). I loved the characters and the refreshing new take on Thor himself. I loved the new tastes of humour and story telling Taika Waititi provided.
Thor: Ragnarok has numerous underlying messages and themes that are quite frankly, very obvious to see. If you can’t see the themes of colonialism, trauma and Indigeneity then ask yourself, why is that the case? and How do I decolonise my own interpretation of media and this film? It is, again, a love letter to Indigenous people in both Australia and Aotearoa. It perfectly depicts Black pain and resistance to colonialism. There is literally so many layers to this movie and these are just the ones I have covered! Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is hilarious, a must watch and is very much so an Indigenous film. So maybe go out and see it and share the first word that slipped out of your mouth when you finished the movie.
(First Published on Endless Yarning)