How the Native-led Content Landscape Has Changed Between ‘Avatars’ – The Hollywood Reporter

Hollywood has never been reluctant to bring native characters to the screen. They have served as the first shield for the hero in most genres of American-Western films, and are sometimes romanticized for their eerie mysticism, cultural practices, and presentation of the film. they are applied (or appropriated, as some might say) in order to instill a sense of depth or art in a white practitioner. In recent years, the historical and ongoing experience of many indigenous communities’ battles to preserve the land and defend their sovereignty has been transformed into big-budget fantasy blockbusters.

But in between the two Avatar movies, the landscape for Native Americans in the media has changed. In 2009, when James Cameron’s first trip to Pandora opened in theaters on its way to winning nine Oscar nominations (three wins) and becoming the highest-grossing film of all time (2.9). billion dollars worldwide), some critics and audiences have heeded the plot’s hints. of indigenous tales, disguised in a literal alien form. Natives also immediately recognize the similarities – not that there’s much they can do about it.

“My feeling when talking to a lot of people is that you have all these Indigenous creators working in Hollywood, but they feel very isolated. “They don’t feel supported,” says Crystal Echo Hawk, founder of IlluminNative, who founded the social justice organization in 2018. they’ll tell you how hard it is, how many times have studio executives told them the only way they’ll care about Indigenous stories is if you show up in this movie, way before 1900. You think about [Reservation Dogs creator] Sterling Harjos, who [producer] Bird Runningwaters, others have been working hard in this industry for 20 years. I think it was hard for anyone back then to imagine what we’re going through now.”

That thing Currently is a still small but growing library of Indigenous-led or Indigenous-centric content in mainstream film and television, including Harjo’s award-winning FX comedy Indie Spirit, as well as the horror series AMC Black WindDisney+’s upcoming Marvel series echo and critically acclaimed Hulu carnivores prequel preywhich the streamer said was the most-watched premiere ever.

Some in the local industry credit activity outside of Hollywood for the big change. “I think a lot of it has to do with the social movements that have happened,” said Jana Schmieding, a writer and star in the comedy Peacock. Rutherford Falls, running for two seasons 2021-22. “We have seen an increase in audience understanding of Black and Indigenous issues, and a simultaneous push from Indigenous peoples — we have saw it in 2016’s Standing Rock — sounded the alarm and bent our sovereignty.”

A nearly year-long public protest over plans to build the Dakota Access Pipeline near the reserve caught the attention of the public (and even attracted Hollywood allies). “Until then, contemporary Indigenous stories have not been reported in the media in any realistic way other than as stories through the eyes of white people. Joey Clift, a writer for the Netflix animated series, said the Standing Rock protests broke out on Twitter and essentially forced mass media coverage. spirit ranger. “It’s starting to make it more clear to the public that we’re still here and that our story is important. That started a lot of spinning wheels.

The rise of social media has also amplified the voices of cultural communities who previously did not have access to such vast mass media platforms. “If you’re doing a show about Indigenous people and you don’t have any Indigenous people working on it and that’s obviously problematic, then Native Twitter will make that clear — not in a good way. Social media has allowed non-Indigenous people to think about Indigenous performance in a far more important light than they could have been equipped with in 2009,” continued Clift. custom,” and that allows us as Indigenous peoples to connect and collaborate creatively. It really connects us as a person.”

Clift notes that Harjo’s roots are from the popular sketch comedy group YouTube Native in the 1491s, and that he recently hired an Ojibwe animator for his Comedy Central digital series after discovering out him on Twitter. “Indigenous people, we are using our understanding of the organization,” adds Schmieding about collective work on the industry front, such as the open letter that the Committee of Native American and American Writers native of WGA West submitted in October 2020 a request for more accurate and fair representation across the business. “We want storytelling sovereignty. We no longer tolerate white people telling their stories without us. And we have also been considered the consultants we should have written and produced credits for for generations. That puts us at an economic disadvantage, and it also puts the story at a disadvantage.”

Multiple diversity studies have shown that creators from systematically excluded backgrounds have a better track record of diverse hiring. What it means for Indigenous hosts to install Indigenous creative and production team members in positions of power is that they have chosen to devote their resources and time to creating systems improved representation (while white directors could focus their energies on perfecting the simulation of water dripping down the skin of a CGI alien). These Indigenous artists have created a system that isn’t there, which makes ignoring those resources all the more critical in 2023, according to Clift.

Echo Hawk agrees: “There is no excuse that there are no qualified, talented natives to do these things. “What we are discovering more and more is how many Indigenous people have been working long term in this industry, in animation or in various aspects of production, but they have been overlooked. We’re fighting to be invested in our stories — not more in an advisory role — because people continue to tap into our stories and culture. Basically, we have to change the pattern of exploitation, exploitation that has prevailed in Hollywood for a long time.”

The hiring of Indigenous consultants continued as active series began to exploit dramatic plot potential, such as historical atrocities against Americans. indigenous women (Paramount+’s 1923) and ongoing events such as the pandemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (by ABC Alaska Daily). Casting director Angelique Midthunder explains: The casting community is still predominantly white, with exceptions like Stacey Rice and Paramount’s Tricia Wood.

However, Midthunder – is not a native but someone who has staged Indigenous-led bands for the past three decades and has a husband and daughter, actor David Midthunder and prey star Amber Midthunder, who is enrolled in the Fort Peck tribe Assiniboine and Sioux – says the producers have been much more proactive than they were 10 years ago about reaching out to consult for even an episode or to ensure that they will cast indigenous actors, when possible, that are tribal specific. As Clift notes, that change affected Avatar sequel, cast Maori actor Cliff Curtis as the leader of an Oceanic Na’vi tribe inspired by Polynesian culture.

That encourages industry insiders, as they continue to push for more inclusion, to find reasons for optimism. “We are having a lot of success with programs like reservation dog because no one can tell that story except people from those communities and they can tell it in an authentic, funny or dramatic way that we can all relate to,” Midthunder, who worked on both that program and Rutherford Falls. “Hopefully that is the spearhead for what’s to come. I hope that now people see that you can have a successful big budget movie [like Prey] with native storytelling, they will be more open to creating more such content. I think people are craving it.”


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