After reading some of the comments of native actors who stayed on set after almost a dozen others walked out of Adam Sandler’s and Netflix production of comedy/satire film, “Ridiculous Six“, one in particular caught my eye because it was so reasonable on one hand, yet it showed two particular notes for me. One, evidence of the deep indoctrination/tactics the US government of mostly European settlers have utilized successfully through the centuries: divide and conquer. Two, the actor used his feelings of being well treated on-set and Mr. Sandler’s friendly interaction with native actors as a reason to excuse the insulting nature and offensive messages of the satire directed toward natives as a whole, but particularly against native women and elders. Finally, the inevitable “We have bigger problems to battle…” and “Lighten up…” phrases were used. You can find the entire message at the Rez Media Facebook page, as of this moment.
I appreciated that actors may have signed a contract for working, such as (well-known Saginaw Grant pointed out when asked in interview on the American Indian Movement radio broadcast this past week), is it more important than dignity and the betterment of your people as a whole? While I certainly appreciated the actor’s insight into the “behind the scenes” aspect, as well as an explanation on contracts, crew interaction, etc., is personal comfort more important than honest humor instead of derogatory insults?
I have done consultant work in films on native or native themed topics though not in the US, but more often worked as a freelance new correspondent on location in Europe for Indian Country Today Media Network, and a writer and psychologist otherwise. Yes, one might sign a contract to work on a film presented as “comedy/satire” BUT the strong majority of the time unless they are the main actors, they do not have the script for the entire film (or at all until their scenes are immediately uncoming during production). Also, the script can be revised over the time of filming.
I walked out of a film released here in Germany in 2014, where I had been contacted to work as a consultant (The White Comanche) which started out in good agreement as being an accurate depiction (by their admission) but when unacceptable revisions and decisions were made? It became unacceptable. You have to stand up for what you believe in. Should these actors have stayed if they objected to material once they learned of what was being said?
My point is, sure we have many other battles of a serious nature which absolutely should have as much or more vehement protest as natives have shown towards this movie. That would really help us as a whole, but just because that may be so, doesn’t mean we should let ignorant stereotypical representations that do reinforce negativity and inspire negative actions towards natives in real life, especially our children (the Lakota 57 incident comes to mind). Just like the mascot issue (#ChangeTheName, #NotYourMascots).
No, we do not need to lighten up! When you tell other people how they should feel just because you don’t feel a certain way, you minimize their feelings unfairly and unjustly. You are helping divide natives despite the unity you spoke of as being needed, as well as serving as the example whites hold up to excuse this kind of cultural and ethnic idiocy. This isn’t funny! Native American women suffer a disproportionately higher rate of violence, rape, murder and sexual abuse and its at the hands of non-natives, than any other group. Here’s the violence against native women Fact Sheet. Sexual jokes in film towards native women aren’t funny!
Films such as these, use of native mascots, etc. have also been considered as being a battle not worth fighting by people who think similarly DESPITE such having been concretely shown to harmfully affect our youths. Native youth suicide is at epidemic proportions and by majority based on racism. Racism and prejudice fueled by people acting on native stereotypes such as presented in and perpetuatedby Sandler’s film. These things are shown to be causal factors, interconnected to suicide, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, those big problems previously mentioned.
There are always many battles in a war. Some may just be skirmishes, others might be full-blown battles, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be fought.
No, I don’t agree in wholesale bashing of someone trying to give natives work but when there are natives who don’t want to still be the latter day equivalent of sideshow freaks displayed by white people, don’t bash them either. Salute their courage instead because they are helping natives overcoming centuries of lies and injustice. In the past it brought wholesale death, today it can bring derision and mockery, all the while producers and directors are laughing all the way to bank.
A great article by Noel Altaha on topic, “An Open Letter to the Native American Actors Who Walked Off the Adam Sandler Film” set. At Rez Group Media, among other notes:
- The fact that boundaries were violated. Boundaries are set to keep people and parities safe and respected based on agreed upon conditions. The terms in this contract were breached once the film crew violated and disregarded the boundaries.
- The fact that the film crew ignorantly hid behind the film category of “comedy” to justify their disrespect of Native women and elders and a culture. There are a lot of modern day comedy films that do not violate the boundaries of respecting another culture so that argument falls flat on its face.