(Photo credit: laskinsfest.com)
Native American TV writers—take heed of this post! You could be a part of this year’s Native American TV Writers Lab!
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the third annual writers lab, presented by LA Skins Fest, is currently accepting applications through the first week and a half of March.
The five-week workshop, modeled after the workshop created by the National Hispanic Media Coalition, is sponsored by CBS Entertainment Diversity, Netflix, HBO, and Comcast NBCUniversal.
Only six to seven writers will be chosen for the workshop, which will take place between mid-May to late June in Los Angeles. The chosen writers will be able to learn from writers in the business through group workshops, panels, and one-on-one meetings. At the end of the workshop, the writers are expected to have at least a 30-minute comedy or one-hour drama script ready for network executives to read. And by “network executives,” that means the biggest of the big wigs; past iterations of the program have featured executives from Lionsgate, ABC, NBCUniversal, CBS, Bad Robot Productions, Echolake Entertainment, Amazon Studios, Fox, and others.
Here’s more about the workshop from the official website:
The NATIVE AMERICAN TV WRITERS LAB was created in accordance with the LA Skins Fest’s mission to improve media portrayals of Native Americans and to increase the number of Native Americans employed in all facets of the media industry.
The NATIVE AMERICAN TV WRITERS LAB is designed to familiarize participants with the format, characters and storyline structure of television. The five week, total immersion workshop will be mentored and guided by an experienced writer with industry credits. The lab will be conducted in Los Angeles, CA with a maximum of 7 writers accepted.
The five-week lab will consist of group discussions, one on one meetings and workshops. One of the main components to be introduced is the writers room. This is an opportunity to have each participant’s script offered up in a professional capacity as a new television script. All of the writers will participate in offering ideas, suggestions, and thoughts on making each script a strong piece. The goal is that the writers garner the skills necessary to obtain employment in the industry.
The regular deadline for applications is March 2, the late deadline is March 9. Dust off your spec scripts and send your stuff in as soon as possible to laskinsfest.com, where you can find more instructions and information. Good luck to all who enter!
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AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File
Rosalyn R. LaPier, The University of Montana
The environmental group Deep Green Resistance recently filed a first-of-its-kind legal suit against the state of Colorado asking for personhood rights for the Colorado River.
If successful, it would mean lawsuits can brought on behalf of the river for any harm done to it, as if it were a person.
In the past, several environmental groups in India, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and New Zealand have successfully sought protection for rivers and landscapes based on this argument. As a Native American scholar of environment and religion, I seek to understand the relationship between people and the natural world.
Native Americans view nature through their belief systems. A river or water does not only sustain life – it is sacred.
Why is water sacred to Native Americans?
In the past year, the Lakota phrase “Mní wičhóni,” or “Water is life,” became a new national protest anthem.
It was chanted by 5,000 marchers at the Native Nations March in Washington, D.C. this spring, and during protests last year as the anthem of the struggle to stop the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River in North Dakota.
There was a reason: For long years, the Lakota, the Blackfeet and the other Native American tribes understood how to live with nature. And it was based on the knowledge of how to live within the restrictions of the limited water supply of the “Great American desert” of North America.
Water as sacred place
Native Americans learned both through observation and experiment, arguably a process quite similar to what we might call science today. They also learned from their religious ideas, passed on from generation to generation in the form of stories.
I learned from my grandparents, both members of the Blackfeet tribe in Montana, about the sacredness of water. They shared that the Blackfeet believed in three separate realms of existence – the Earth, sky and water. The Blackfeet believed that humans, or “Niitsitapi,” and Earth beings, or “Ksahkomitapi,” lived in one realm; sky beings, or “Spomitapi,” lived in another realm; and underwater beings, or “Soyiitapi,” lived in yet another. The Blackfeet viewed all three worlds as sacred because within them lived the divine.
The water world, in particular, was held in special regard. The Blackfeet believed that in addition to the divine beings, about which they learned from their stories, there were divine animals. The divine beaver, who could talk to humans, taught the Blackfeet their most important religious ceremony. The Blackfeet needed this ceremony to reaffirm their relationships with the three separate realms of reality.
The Soyiitapi, divine water beings, also instructed the Blackfeet to protect their home, the water world. The Blackfeet could not kill or eat anything living in water; they also could not disturb or pollute water.
The Blackfeet viewed water as a distinct place – a sacred place. It was the home of divine beings and divine animals who taught the Blackfeet religious rituals and moral restrictions on human behavior. It can, in fact, be compared to Mount Sinai of the Old Testament, which was viewed as “holy ground” and where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
Water as life
Native American tribes on the Great Plains knew something else about the relationship between themselves, the beaver and water. They learned through observation that beavers helped create an ecological oasis within a dry and arid landscape.
As Canadian anthropologist R. Grace Morgan hypothesized in her dissertation “Beaver Ecology/Beaver Mythology,” the Blackfeet sanctified the beaver because they understood the natural science and ecology of beaver behavior.
Morgan believed that the Blackfeet did not harm the beaver because beavers built dams on creeks and rivers. Such dams could produce enough of a diversion to create a pond of fresh clean water that allowed an oasis of plant life to grow and wildlife to flourish.
Beaver ponds provided the Blackfeet with water for daily life. The ponds also attracted animals, which meant the Blackfeet did not have to travel long distances to hunt. The Blackfeet did not need to travel for plants used for medicine or food, either.
Beavers were part of what ecologists call a trophic cascade, or a reciprocal relationship. Beaver ponds were a win-win for all concerned in “the Great American desert” that modern ecologists and conservationists are beginning to study only now.
For the Blackfeet, Lakota and other tribes of the Great Plains, water was “life.” They understood what it meant to live in a dry arid place, which they expressed through their religion and within their ecological knowledge.
Rights of rivers
Indigenous people from around the world share these beliefs about the sacredness of water.
The government of New Zealand recently recognized the ancestral connection of the Maori people to their water. This past spring, the government passed the “Te Awa Tupua Whanganui River Claims Settlement Bill,” which provides “personhood” status to the Whanganui River, one of the largest rivers on the North Island of New Zealand. This river has come to be recognized as having “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person” – something the Maori believed all along.
The United States does not have such laws. This new lawsuit hopes to change that and give the Colorado River “personhood” status. Indigenous people would add, a river is more than a “person” – it is also a sacred place.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 21, 2017.
Rosalyn R. LaPier, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, The University of Montana
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Native Americans continue to look forward despite the barriers they face, embracing medicine, language, the fortitude to be a distinct nation within a nation, and of course, our history and culture.
We celebrate the challenges our people have overcome, and the unity we feel as a people.
SAN FRANCISCO— For thousands of years, Indigenous persons have inhabited North America, before there were borders between the United States and Canada. There are shared histories, reserves, treaties, boarding schools, assimilation, and current issues that they face in the modern world, no matter where they live in the continent. Battling social welfare issues, impoverished urban conditions, homelessness, mineral exploration and exploitation, media apathy, missing and exploited women, and more, the Native people continue to face an unprecedented number of challenges. It is the relationship between tribes in the United States and Canada that thrives. Native Americans continue to look forward despite the barriers they face, embracing medicine, language, the fortitude to be a distinct nation within a nation, and of course, our history and culture. That is what the American Indian Film Festival celebrates every year. We celebrate the challenges our people have overcome, and the unity we feel as a people. And we will continue to do this at the 42nd annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco from Nov. 3-11, 2017.
The public is invited to enjoy film screenings, appearances by filmmakers, actors and directors, Q&A sessions, and memorable entertainment during the nine-day event, capped by the American Indian Motion Picture Awards Show.
“AIFI is proud to launch its 42nd annual American Indian Film Festival. This assembly of new film works of the USA American Indian and Canada First Nations is presented to foster public truth and understanding to the social and economic culture and ways of life of contemporary Indian peoples. Despite a history of genocide and exploitation of our nation’s people and land base, we have persevered… We have maintained and rebuilt our nation’s infrastructure, spirit, culture and language. This is our truth, and we look forward to sharing it with our audiences in the coming days,” said AIFI founder and president, Michael Smith (Sioux). “Film is an important tool that we can use to educate and entertain our audiences, and this is the best of Native cinema in the world.”
The festival will be held at the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco (2781 24th Street). The full program can be found online at http://www.aifisf.com/film-schedule-2017. Tickets can also be purchased on the website, with an intricate look at the captivating and emotional films that will be featured. The awards ceremony will be held on the evening of Nov. 11.
The festival kicks off on Nov. 4 with the film The Road Forward, a musical documentary by Marie Clements, which connects a pivotal moment in Canada’s civil rights history, the beginnings of Indian Nationalism in the 1930s, with the powerful momentum of First Nations activism today. The Road Forward‘s stunningly shot musical sequences, performed by an ensemble of some of Canada’s finest vocalists and musicians, seamlessly connect past and present with soaring vocals, blues, rock, and traditional beats. A rousing tribute to the fighters for First Nations rights, a soul-resounding historical experience, and a visceral call to action. The show begins at 7 p.m.
Other notable moments of AIFF 42 include: Dynamic Women’s Series on Sunday, Nov. 5 from 12-10 p.m., featuring six powerful documentaries displaying the Native American women’s fight for justice.
Nov. 7: Bainbridge’s documentary feature, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, a 103-minute feature film, which dives into Native American influences on music history.
Nov. 9: Wind River, Taylor Sheridan’s 111-minute feature. The film follows a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) who teams up with a local game tracker with deep community ties and a haunted past (Jeremy Renner) to investigate the murder of a local girl on a remote Native American reservation in the hopes of solving her mysterious death. The film also stars Gil Birmingham, Graham Greene, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, and Kelsey Asbille.
November 10: Directed by Jeremy Torrie and starring Adam Beach, Emma Tremblay, and Roseanne Supernault, the film Juliana & The Medicine Fish tells the story of 12-year-old Juliana. The 110-minute feature film looks into a complicated relationship between a father and a daughter, and the power of believing in oneself.
The festival’s formidable artwork was done by Crow Indian artist Del Curfman. The poster “Standing for Justice” is an inspiring piece of art, and perfectly encapsulates the meaning of the festival.
The 42nd annual American Indian Film Festival® is sponsored by: San Francisco Grants for the Arts, The Hewlett Foundation, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Chickasaw Nation, Twin Pine Casino & Hotel, The George Lucas Family Foundation, and CBS.
The American Indian Film Festival® is open to the general public-at-large and invites all communities to celebrate November American Indian Heritage Month.
Advance tickets for the film festival and awards show are available through aifisf.com.
Looks like Fox is not looking to be outdone by ABC and its inclusive comedies. Fox is making history by buying an autobiographical comedy Reservations, bringing a Native American story to the forefront of American TV.
So what do you need to know about this groundbreaking comedy? Thanks to Deadline, here are the big three facts you need.
1. Reservations comes from writer Lucas Brown Eyes: Lucas Brown Eyes (pictured above), a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, got his start with the ABC Disney Writing Program in 2014 and worked on various Disney shows including Freeform’s Young & Hungry, where he worked as a writer and executive story editor, and KC Undercover.
2. Reservations is based on Brown Eyes’ own experiences growing up: The show follows a Native American family “that trades their impoverished reservation for Los Angeles, a move inspired by the dreams of a 14-year-old boy to live in Hollywood.” The move to the glitzy, fame-obsessed town puts the family through an intense (but hilarious) adjustment process.
The story mirrors what Brown Eyes’ family did to help him achieve his writing dreams. As stated in his biography on IMDB, Brown Eyes’ family moved to California so he could study film and television at the Orange County High School of the Arts.
3. The show is brought to us by the people who brought us the new Pennywise: Reservations is the first sale David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith’s KatzSmith production company has made under their new deal with 20th Century Fox. KatzSmith is proving itself to have an eye for what the zeitgeist want to see; they are behind theIt reboot, and they’re also backing the new Beetlejuice sequel and a film version of Kung Fury.
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Usually, POC lovers of media are quick to call out moments of whitewashing. However, now comes the time when we have to police how POC actors take roles from other POC.
Adam Beach, one of the most prominent Native actors in Hollywood, is calling on people to boycott the Paramount Network’s first scripted series, Yellowstone. The show, starring Kevin Costner, focuses on Costner’s character John Dutton, who owns the biggest contiguous ranch in the country. The ranch under attack by Yellowstone National Park itself, as well as land developers and a nearby Native American reservation who, I’m assuming, see it as a threat to their way of life since the rest of the synopsis, according to Coming Soon, reads thusly:
“It is an intense study of a violent world far from media scrutiny—where land grabs make developers billions, and politicians are bought and sold by the world’s largest oil and lumber corporations. Where drinking water poisoned by fracking wells and unsolved murders are not news: they are a consequence of living in the new frontier. It is the best and worst of America seen through the eyes of a family that represents both.”
The controversy comes in with the casting of Kelsey Asbille, formerly known as Kelsey Chow, as the Native American character Monica. Asbille is half Chinese, according to Wikipedia. As Clevver writes, “the 25-year-old actress is half-white/half-Taiwanese ‘with some Cherokee ancestry.’ Others state that she was born to a ‘Chinese-Taiwanese father and a mother of English and Cherokee descent.’” Wikipedia’s entry on Asbille states nothing about any Cherokee ancestry. At the end of the day, there seems to be a question surrounding her possible Native American ancestry.
This isn’t the first time she’s been cast as a Native American, which is troubling, since her recent role before Yellowstone, a Native American character named Natalie in the acclaimed film Wind River, is probably what allowed her to secure this Yellowstone role.
According to Clevver, Beach wrote on Instagram that the Yellowstone casting was “failure in diversity.”
“I’m asking my Native Actors to stay away from this project. ‘Yellowstone’ is telling the world that there are no Native actresses capable of leading a TV show. Unless your great-great grandparents are Cherokee,” he wrote.
“I speak on behalf of all my woman Natives who work so hard to get noticed and they wake up to this,” he wrote.
Will more speak out against Asbille’s casting? We’ll see what happens as Yellowstone ramps up.
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Hollywood’s still growing in its discussions about diversity in entertainment, and one area the industry is lacking is multifaceted, unique, and contemporary portrayals of Native Americans. Indigenous multimedia documentarian Pamela Peters is aiming to push the conversation into overdrive with her photography exhibit, “Real NDNZ Re-Take Hollywood.”
The exhibit, which ran this August at These Days gallery in Los Angeles, featured Native actors and writers dressed as ’50s and ’60s star icons like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face and Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.
To quote from the exhibit’s page:
REAL NDNZ RE-TAKE HOLLYWOOD showcases photographs from Diné photographer and filmmaker Pamela J. Peters, whose work seeks to disrupt and decolonize clichéd portrayals of Native Americans. This series “re-takes” and recreates classic, iconic portraits of movie stars of yesteryear by replacing those past film icons with contemporary Native American actors. Photographing “Real NDNZ” in the elegant clothes and iconic poses of James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, and others from the classic period of Hollywood film—rather than in the buckskin, feathers, and painted faces featured in most Hollywood films—deconstructs time-worn, demeaning representations and opens up new possibilities for seeing Indigenous peoples as contemporary, creative people.
Peters told AJ+ that her project was aimed squarely at disintegrating society’s stereotype of the Native American.
“For so long, the image of Native Americans has always been the relic of the past, with stereotypes–buckskin, feathers, leather,” she said. “…I really want to dispel that ugly stereotype that many people perceive when they think of Native American.”
These #NativeAmerican actors are breaking Hollywood stereotypes, one photo at a time. pic.twitter.com/mdGxkFYaDp
— LikeAGirlProductions (@likeagirlinc) November 27, 2016
Learn more about Peters and her work at her website and on Twitter.
Have you heard about the battle between the North Dakota Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the federal government over the North Dakota pipeline? Probably not since it hasn’t been covered by the news—the 24-hour news cycle is spending most of those 24 hours on Trump antics. However, there’s a serious news story behind the North Dakota pipeline standoff, and it’d be worthwhile for you to know about it and care about it.
First, a small intro (with news gathered from the New York Times):
• The North Dakota pipeline is “a $3.7 billion project that would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil fields of western North Dakota to Illinois, where it would be linked with other pipelines.” According to Energy Transfer, the pipeline could create 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs, but it won’t create as many permanent jobs as one would think. The pipeline could also create millions of dollars for the region’s economies.
• While there are many who are for the pipeline, there are just as many who are against it, including the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who have been protesting the pipeline for weeks in a field owned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Others against the pipeline are some farmers in Iowa, whose land the pipeline would go through.
• Of course, those behind this and other pipelines state that pipelines are safe. But as the New York Times states, “pipeline spills and ruptures occur regularly.” The paper cites Inside Climate News, stating:
“In 2013, a Tesoro Logistics pipeline in North Dakota broke open and spilled 865,000 gallons of oil onto a farm. In 2010, an Enbridge Energy pipeline dumped more than 843,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, resulting in a cleanup that lasted years and cost more than a billion dollars[.]”
Certainly, you are encouraged to learn more about this issue for yourself. But because you have the jist, let’s discuss why you need to care about this.
1. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is fighting for their right to exist freely. The pipeline isn’t just going to be built to traverse multiple states; the land it would be built on is sacred land that should be respected. The tribe has stated that the land the pipeline would run through “traverses ancestral lands–which are not part of the reservation–where their forebears hunted, fished and were buried. They say historical and cultural reviews of the land where the pipeline will be buried were inadequate.”
The construction of this pipeline only echoes the centuries of cultural and environmental destruction Native Americans have experienced. Marcus Patrick Ellsworth for MTV writes about some of the most recent offenses:
“Tribal lands have long been exploited for the gain of others. Several tribes in western states still have to cope with a legacy of illness and irradiated land from uranium mining during the Cold War era; the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming has had its groundwater contaminated by years of dumping wastewater on reservation land. Because so many communities have been affected by lackadaisical protection from toxic industries, groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network support campaigns to stop oil drilling and move us toward clean energy alternatives.”
One of the older examples, though, is the very monument that celebrates Americanism and Manifest Destiny, Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills, on which the monument is carved, is sacred to the Lakota Sioux and was part of their territory due to the Treaty of 1868, states PBS’s American Experience. But once gold was found in the mountain, the government forced the Sioux to give up the Black Hills. The monument was later constructed between 1927 to 1941.
The insult of Rushmore to some Sioux is at least three-fold:
1. It was built on land the government took from them. 2. The Black Hills in particular are considered sacred ground. 3.The monument celebrates the European settlers who killed so many Native Americans and appropriated their land.
2. The environmental effect of the pipeline could be catastrophic. As alluded above, the environmental problems aren’t being sincerely thought about when it comes to the long-term effects of this pipeline.
One of the worries the tribe has is what could happen if the pipeline breaks and leaks into the nearby Missouri River. Iyuskin American Horse for The Guardian writes how “pipeline construction [tears] its way toward the waters of the Missouri river which flow into the Mississippi, threatening to pollute the aquifer that carries drinking water to 10 million people.” He also writes how the pipeline has already altered the landscape by machines “[clawing] through the earth that once held my relatives’ villages” and how the pipeline violates treaties between the government and tribal governments.
“…This pipeline poses threats strikingly similar to those posed by the now defeated Keystone XL, but has received a fraction of the attention from mainstream media and big environmental groups. On 26 July, we were surprised to learn that the North Dakota permits were approved by the US Army Corps of Engineers to run the pipeline within a half-mile of our reservation. My tribal leaders have said that this [was] done without consulting tribal governments, and without a meaningful study of the impacts it will have. This is a violation of federal law and, more importantly, of our treaties with the US government- the supreme law of the land.”
3. What affects the Standing Rock Sioux affects all of us, so we should care. The way America has set up its hierarchy, too many of us feel like what affects the Native American population doesn’t affect the rest of us. However, what affects them affects us. We all live in the same country, and if a community receives poor treatment and is put at an environmental risk, then that same environmental risk is something we all should worry about.
If a pipeline did affect the Missouri and that damage flowed into the Mississippi, the longest river in the United States, then it’d be more than just the Standing Rock Sioux who’d be receiving poisoned water; it’d be people from the south westward, about half or more than half of the entire country. That would be millions to possibly billions of dollars spent on cleaning up the Mississippi as well as millions or billions more spent addressing the health of those affected. Even more money would be spent working on repairing the damage to the wildlife. The effects of such a catastrophe could be felt for years or even decades. Remember that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 is still affecting the gulf region in many ways today.
We should all stop for a second and consider supporting the Standing Rock Sioux who are leading the fight against the pipeline. They have already bled for it; the least we can do is say “I support.”
North Dakota pipeline turns violent after cultural sites destroyed | The Guardian
Photos Show Why the North Dakota Pipeline is Problematic | Buzzfeed
Have you heard of the DC/Vertigo comic book Scalped? If you’ve been a fan of the comic book, it’s now been greenlit as an upcoming show on WGN America!
The Hollywood Reporter has described Scalped as such:
“‘Scalped’ is described as a modern-day crime story set in the world of a Native American Indian reservation. It explores power, loyalty, and spirituality in a community led by the ambitious chief Lincoln Red Crow as he reckons with Dashiel Bad Horse, who has returned home after years away from the reservation.”
This show is very big news in the world of television as well as the world of media in general. Scalped could very well be the hottest show of the upcoming season, and it’s ability to be a game-changer can be broken down into three reasons:
Scalped will boast an all-Indian cast
The Hollywood Reporter states that WGN America is aiming at doing something Hollywood hasn’t willingly done at any point in its history. As the site reports, “Insiders say WGN America is eyeing an all Native-American cast.” When was the last time you saw Hollywood do something like that?
This is groundbreaking for two different reasons. First, it increases TV’s lead in the diversity race; film still has tons of mileage to go if it wants to catch up. Second, America hasn’t had an all-Native led show ever. The most we’ve seen Native Americans on television is in some kind of historical setting, as if they’re all dead. Or, if we do see them in a modern sense (such as in Sleepy Hollow) we only get to see them for five minutes in one episode (I’m still hoping for Eddie Spears’ Big Ash to make a return). A show like Scalped could really open some doors for Native actors trying to make it in Hollywood.
With its pulpy tone, Scalped could be the Empire of its kind, which means huge fame, but also huge consequences
This is both a good and bad thing. It’s good in that Scalped could become must-see, live-tweetable television in the same vein that Empire has dominated social media and pop culture as a whole. Or, as it’s been compared to, it could be the Sopranos of the Twitter age, or even the Breaking Bad of the Twitter age, a show that ensares its audience with gripping drama.
The bad thing about Scalped possibly becoming an Empire specifically is that with that fame comes compromise. Everyone (including myself) loves Empire. But as fun as Empire is, the show is not without its problems, such as colorism. (Before her character was bumped up, Gabourey Sidibe’s secretary character Becky was an afterthought, Ta’Rhonda Jones’s character Porsha is the comic relief to light-skinned Cookie, Bunkie was killed in the first episode, Lucious’s maid is a heavy-set, older black woman, and Malik Yoba’s character Vernon, who had an interesting subplot as a recovering drug addict, was killed later on in the first season by Rhonda.) Other issues include the treatment of women in the show, particularly the character Cookie, who, while a fun character (and a character I love), is filled with the “angry black woman” stereotype. Taraji P. Henson herself talked about how ironic it was that she would win a Golden Globe for playing an ex-convict rather than any of the other characters she’s played.
The Scalped comic book has been praised as a gritty modern noir, but the book has also faced its fair share of criticism, such as glossing over of the diversity of Native issues and Lakota culture as a whole. Wikipedia describes the comic as such:
“The series focuses on the Oglala Lakota inhabitants of the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in modern-day South Dakota as they grapple with organized crime, rampant poverty, drug addiction and alcoholism, local politics and the preservation of their cultural identity.”
While much of this could be handled with a deft and knowledgeable hand (such as by a Native writer or a writer who has done a lot of outside research and has fielded the help of consultants), it’s unclear how much knowledge comic book writer Jason Aaron has about the Lakota or Native Americans in general. Aaron, a non-Native white writer, could be critiqued as having fallen into the same pitfalls many other writers have fallen into when writing modern Native characters. As Indian Country Today Media Network writes:
“The question of whether Scalped was exploitative and harmful was raised from the get-go. …Scalped creators, writer Jason Aaron and artis R.M. Guera, aren’t Natives, and whether the world they depicted ultimately treated Native people fairly in the course of their series is a topic for debate.”
Rob Schmidt of Blue Corn Comics has written his critique of the story, which, in fact, does state, in so many words, that Aaron did rely on stereotypes of reservations:
“It’s clear what Aaron’s inspiration is for this ultra-negative portrayal of life on the rez: the horrible situation at Pine Ridge in the ’70s, when rabble-rousin activists fought a corrupt tribal government. This is the conflict that ended in Wounded Knee and put [activist] Leonard Peltier in prison for life.
Trouble is, that was 30 years ago. Tribal governments are much cleaner now because anyone with a cellphone, copy machine, or website can expose their flaws. Indians do use technology, believe it or not, although you wouldn’t know it from SCALPED. This series reads as if it was set in the 1970s–as if Aaron wanted to do a Quentin Tarantino version of Thunderheart.
…Moreover, casinos aren’t a major source of crime. Every Indian casino gets approved and regulated by multiple levels of government. The most recent gaming scandals involved lobbying in Washington, not crime on the rez.”
Schmidt goes onto say that one of the book series’ tropes is that it portrays is that “[t]he many bad Indians outweigh the few good Indians [,] [t]hus the Indians have gotten what they deserve.”
An argument could even be made about the name of the book itself indulging in stereotype, as well as the most popular cover art of the first volume by British artist/writer Jock (shown above). We’ve already had tons of issues with folks appropriating headdresses, and drawing one in an attempt to grab potential readers’ attention is no different.
Scalped could delve much deeper into Lakota history, culture, and the issues facing the Lakota and all Native Americans in a much more honest light than the comic.
Scalped is a show that already has elements of being both a godsend to Native actors and the Native community as well as becoming a thorn in the Native community’s side. But there’s time to make Scalped the show that can entertain as well as educate.
The question I have for Scalped revolves around the basis for the book itself. As already stated, the book is, as The Hollywood Reporter states, “partially inspired by the 1975 arrest of Native American activist Leonard Peltier.” The Hollywood Reporter states that Peltier was arrested for killing two FBI agents in a shootout on a reservation, but his supposed guilt has long since been put into question, and many have made petitions to get Peltier’s sentence reexamined, lessened, or removed all together.
This point in history could be a great basis for a show, if taken into account as a watershed moment in Native and American history. Will the show decide to delve deeper into Native American issues and cultural differences and similarities? Will the show actually portray a more realistic portrayal of the Lakota than shown in the comics? Or will the show continue the book’s issue of failing to avoid stereotypes? The fate of Scalped is in the hands of Doug Jung, another non-Native. Will Jung and the show’s team bring on Lakota consultants in an effort to make the show fun and exciting while being respectful of the culture? We’ll see, and for that alone, Scalped is must-watch TV, at least for the first episode.
What do you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!