Following Marvel’s recent string of misses with their last few films, there have been questions about if audiences have grown tired of superhero content; when asked about the trend at the Los Angeles premiere of his new movie Next Goal Wins on Tuesday, Waititi told The Music news, “I don’t know. I’m a bit fatigued by working on those big films, studio films, which is why I’ve come back to do smaller films like this; my next film will be a smaller one.”
The Thor director noted, however, that “there’s always a place for them and they’re always inspirational. As a little kid, those are the things I loved, going to see these big movies set in outer space to take a great escape from where we are. So I hope they continue.”
For now, Waititi’s focus is on Next Goal Wins, which follows the story of the infamously terrible American Samoa soccer team and the arrival of down-on-his-luck coach Thomas Rongen (played by Michael Fassbender) to try to turn the team around.
“I really wanted to see Pacific Islanders on screen, I want to see indigenous people on screen,” said Waititi, who wrote, directed and produced the project. “Hollywood still has a ways to go with diversity and how they deal with that without it being tokenism, so I think the key to that is allowing native people to tell native stories.”
“All of my films are underdog stories really,” added the filmmaker of wanting to focus on a losing team. “Listen, no one wants to go see a film about winners who keep winning, that’s boring. You’ve got to start somewhere and go somewhere, so it’s about change.” Waititi also explained why he cast Fassbender as the coach, noting that though he talked to other actors, “Michael was the one who the script resonated with him and he got it on an emotional level.”
For his part, Fassbender said he was drawn to the project by a desire to work with Waititi, and after watching a documentary about the team, “I was so enchanted by the story and captivated by this incredible human story of positivity.”
Jaiyah Saelua, one of the real-life players portrayed in the film, was also present at the premiere, admitting it is “so surreal to think that someone is playing me in a Hollywood feature film. These things just don’t happen for people like myself who are from American Samoa, one of the smallest countries in the world.” Saelua, played by Samoan actor Kaimana, is the first transgender football player to compete in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match.
Recalling the first time she watched the movie, Saelua said she “personally loved it” but was also worried about some of the more problematic aspects of her storyline, like when her character is deadnamed. She realized, though, “that a lot of trans realities are portrayed in the movie and that is important for audiences to see” and noted that “the first community to see the movie on a screen was American Samoa in July; Taika Waititi brought it to American Samoa himself for my people to see and that was a beautiful ode to my people.”
Next Goal Wins hits theaters on Friday.
Tiffany Taylor contributed to this report.