Spat over de­pic­tion of Na­tive Amer­i­cans in film sparks de­bate


When a group of Na­tive Amer­i­can ac­tors walked off the set of an Adam San­dler movie this week, their de­ci­sion gen­er­ated praise and scorn on so­cial me­dia.

But ev­ery­one agreed on one thing: De­spite grow­ing aware­ness, out­dated Na­tive Amer­i­can stereo­types in Hol­ly­wood re­main. And more Na­tive Amer­i­cans are voic­ing their opin­ions.

This week, eight ac­tors quit the pro­duc­tion of the satir­i­cal West­ern “The Ridicu­lous Six” over com­plaints about of­fen­sive names and re­li­gious scenes.

The ac­tors said they couldn’t par­tic­i­pate in a movie de­pict­ing a Na­tive Amer­i­can woman uri­nat­ing while smok­ing a peace pipe.

Cal­i­for­nia writer Megan Red Shirt- Shaw, founder of Na­tives in Amer­ica, an on­line pub­li­ca­tion for Na­tive Amer­i­can youth, said the walk­out gen­er­ated praise from Amer­i­can In­dian ad­vo­cates be­cause peo­ple were tired of the images and now have out­lets to ex­press their out­rage.

“In the past, Na­tive ac­tors did speak out but they didn’t have the tech­nol­ogy to share their views widely,” Red Shirt- Shaw said. “It’s dif­fer­ent now.”

On so­cial me­dia, ac­tivists used the hash­tag # NotYourHoll ywoodIn­dian t o de­nounce San­dler’s project and to thank the ac­tors for their “brav­ery.”

Mean­while, other Na­tive Amer­i­cans say more ac­tors and writ­ers are needed in me­dia to battle hurt­ful images. They ar­gued the ac­tors should have stayed on set.

The San­dler film is set for a Net­flix- only re­lease, and the stream­ing ser­vice says it was de­signed to lam­poon stereo­types pop­u­lar­ized in West­ern movies.

A spokesman for San­dler’s pro­duc­tion com­pany, Happy Madi­son Pro­duc­tions, didn’t im- me­di­ately re­turn a phone mes­sage.

In re­cent years, Na­tive Amer­i­cans have been more out­spo­ken.

For ex­am­ple, in 2013, some Na­tive Amer­i­cans were crit­i­cal of Johnny Depp’s por­trayal on Tonto in the Dis­ney ver­sion adap­ta­tion of “The Lone Ranger.” Depp spoke in bro­ken English, chanted prayers and wore a stuffed crow on his head. How­ever, af­ter a cam­paign by the movie to im­prove its im­age with Na­tive Amer­i­cans, Depp was even­tu­ally em­braced on the Navajo Na­tion and was later adopted into the Co­manche Na­tion.

A year be­fore, the band No Doubt was forced to apol­o­gize and pull the mu­sic video “Look­ing Hot” af­ter lead singer Gwen Ste­fani was crit­i­cized for danc­ing around teepees and wear­ing a se­ries of Na­tive Amer­i­canstyled out­fits.

Elise Marub­bio, an Amer­i­can In­dian Stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Augs­burg Col­lege, said those stereo­types are part of the myth­i­cal Amer­i­can West nar­ra­tive and usu­ally cen­ter on images of the Lakota Sioux, the last tribe de­feated by U. S. gov­ern­ment forces.

But of­ten those Lakota char­ac­ters of the Great Plains are por­trayed living in Mon­u­ment Val­ley on the Navajo Na­tion of the Amer­i­can South­west, Marub­bio said.

That por­trayal has changed lit­tle since the 1930s and seems to give some a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to dis­re­spect­fully use Na­tive Amer­i­can cloth­ing and prac­tices.

Goldie Tom, a fe­male ac­tor who walked off the San­dler pro­duc­tion, said she knew the movie wasn’t go­ing to be his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate, but she thought it would be taste­ful.

“I don’t re­gret my de­ci­sion to be in the movie,” Tom said. “But af­ter this ex­pe­ri­ence, I’m re­minded that we still have work to do.”


In this June 22, 2013 file photo, Johnny Depp at­tends the world pre­miere of “The Lone Ranger,” with back­ground images of him as Tonto, left, and Ar­mie Ham­mer in the ti­tle role, at Dis­ney Cal­i­for­nia Adventure in Ana­heim, Cal­i­for­nia.

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