This list features superhero blockbusters, a highly anticipated thriller from a new director, a family comedy adventure and some very good and timely documentaries that feature Native and indigenous icons, heroes and themes.
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (with Chris Pine) has been an incredibly successful DC movie after some lackluster DC showing. Wonder Woman’s origin story as Diana, Princess of the Amazons, encounters American pilot Steve Trevor who crashes near her hidden island. Patty Jenkins as director employs Eugene Brave Rock as Napi, the native demi-god, who speaks Blackfoot to Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, that has made waves in Indian Country. Brave Rock has been an actor and a stuntman in several films including The Revenant.
Taylor Sheridan’s first big film as a director, he wrote the movies Sicario and Hell or High Water. He had a brief scene in that movie as a cowboy and had a recurring role as a cop in Sons of Anarchy, and it all shows in his writing. Sheridan has built a solid reputation and we can look forward to more films from him. It’s a chilling thriller that follows a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) who teams up with a local gametracker (Jeremy Renner), with deep community ties (his ex-wife is Julia Jones) and a haunted past to investigate the murder of a local girl on the remote Wind River Indian Reservation, in the hopes of solving her mysterious death.
Native actors include Gil Birmingham, Graham Greene, Martin Sensmeier, Julia Jones, Tantoo Cardinal and Tokala Clifford. Reps of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Nations of Wind River were on set in Utah and were supportive of the filming, the Tunica-Biloxi Nation of Louisiana partly financed it.
Deidra and Laney Rob a Train
This is Navajo film-maker Sydney Freeland’s second feature. It is a comedy with a diverse cast and headed by young actors of color. Freeland was basically mentored at Sundance Institute and had success with her first film, Drunktown’s Finest. She landed this Netflix movie in 2016 and it’s a family adventure and a better coming of age movie than most formula ones out there. The plot is about high school senior Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) and younger sister Laney (Rachel Crow), as graduation looms their part-time dad (David Lawrence) is a full-time schemer, and adolescent embarrassments arrive daily. Then their mother Marigold (Danielle Nicolet) is thrown in jail for a minor offense after succumbing to the pressures of single parenting. To help her struggling family, Deidra hatches a plan to start robbing the trains that run through their backyard. Things go great until a railroad detective (Tim Blake Nelson) starts sniffing around. Sharon Lawrence, Sasheer Zamata, and Missi Pyle have feature roles. On Netflix now.
Wilma Mankiller was the first woman to be elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. This documentary is a poignant, thoughtful and captivating documentary that tells a veritable “Phoenix rising from the ashes” story about a woman who, as a little girl, was forced to participate in the Indian relocation program and leave her Cherokee tribe and culture behind.
The story of Wilma Mankiller is well-known to many in Indian country, but the combination of efforts of Native director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl and Hollywood heavyweight Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk and The Walking Dead) as the executive producer provided some long-needed feminine energy to create a true work of artistic perfection.
Awake, A Dream From Standing Rock
This is a feature-length documentary directed by Academy Award nominated filmmaker and activist Josh Fox (Gasland, How To Let Go Of The World And Learn To Love Everything Climate Can’t Change), Academy Award nominated filmmaker James Spione (Incident In New Baghdad) and indigenous filmmaker and Digital Smoke Signals founder Myron Dewey, written by Floris White Bull, Fox and Dewey, plus Executive Produced by Shailene Woodley, Doug Good Feather, Emmy Award winning filmmaker Amy Zeirling and Lauren Taschen.
Awake premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City this past April. Standing Rock, North Dakota, became one of the most watched places on earth and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe captured world attention through their peaceful resistance. Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock, captures the story of Native-led defiance that forever changed how we fight for our environment and the future of our planet. Go here for info and screenings.
Rumble: The Indians that Rocked the World
A feature documentary about the influence of Native American musicians on popular American music, including blues, jazz, folk and rock and roll. This excellent film was the product of seven years of research and production initiated by Tim Johnson (Mohawk), as an Associate Director for Museum Programs at the National Museum of the American Indian. Rumble won “World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Featured stories about Charlie Patton, Mildred Bailey, Jesse Ed Davis, Randy Castillo with interviews from Stevie Salas, Buffy Ste Marie, Robbie Robertson, Pura Fe, Taj Mahal, John Trudell and many others. You can find screenings here.
A documentary 33 years in the making, from a historic genocide trial to the ousting of a president, 500 Years tells a sweeping story of mounting resistance in Guatemala, through the actions and perspectives of the majority indigenous Mayan population, who now stand poised to change their society. “500 Years”, the third film from director Pamela Yates, continues the epic saga of indigenous resistance in Guatemala that began with When the Mountains Tremble (1983), followed by Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011). All three films will have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival over a 33-year period.
The Bad Batch
It’s called a “simultaneously very beautiful and disturbing” film and it starts with a warning sign where you enter a desert territory that is “Not Texas” - or the USA - and appears to be a Burning Man-inspired prison of recycled cast-offs, inmates, druggies and cannibals lorded over by Keanu Reeves. Native Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa stars along with Suki Waterhouse, Giovanni Ribisi, Diego Luna and Jim Carrey. Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour.
Native Hawaiian Jason Momoa stars as Aquaman in a sequel to Dawn of Justice. Momoa rocks a trident, scales and tattoos as a new-look Aquaman. Batman and new found ally Wonder Woman need to recruit a team of metahumans to face a new enemy after Superman’s selfless act in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Ciaran Hinds (Game of Thrones) plays Steppenwolf, the general of the alien race, the New Gods, who serves his lord Darkseid from the planet Apokolips and unleashes his Parademons on earth in search of the Mother Boxes. Steppenwolf, Darkseid and Doomsday are long established DC supervillains, created by Jack Kirby. Other characters include Flash, Cyborg, Lex Luthor and characters from the Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman franchises.
The Lost City of Z
In the 1920s, British military vet Percy Fawcett and his teenage son vanished while mapping an ancient civilization in the Amazon. Director James Grey (We Own the Night, The Immigrant) tell’s Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) story with nature’s compelling power and the need to preserve one’s legacy. Lush greens crackle, World War I battle sequences glide by, and fragile family drama anchors The Lost City of Z. “Who are the Savages and the Civilized?” gets asked and recent studies about Amazonian stonehenges and the research behind the best-selling book, "1491", may prove the premise correct about hidden and lost Amazonian civilizations. From the book written by David Grann, who also wrote "Killers of the Flower Moon", about the Osage murders for oil money.