Actress, director and producer Tracey Deer, Mohawk, is the creator of the hit Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) show Mohawk Girls, a campy look at the lives of four Mohawk women in their twenties who are “trying to find their place in the world. And, of course, trying to find love,” according to the show’s description. Indian Country Media Network caught up with Deer after she gave a master class at the Montreal First Peoples Festival in August, where she gave advice to aspiring filmmakers, and others interested in the field, for the second year in a row.
How was the class, and how did you feel doing it? Have you been at the Montreal First Peoples Festival before?
This was my second master class with them. I enjoy this very much. I love speaking about my work, I love speaking with either aspiring filmmakers—that’s typically who come to a master class—and I love just sharing, and I’m so proud of the work. So it’s great to interact one-on-one with people who either have seen the work or just—we all love the business we’re in. I find it very fueling.
I tuned in the other day and it was the episode when they’re in that crazy [sex] club. Where did you get those ideas?
Well I’m very open in saying that a lot of the show is inspired by personal events. What can I say? I’ve explored the world. I’ve explored different facets. And you know—the BDSM community is an interesting community. It’s a tight-knit, close community, which I loved juxtaposing with Kanawake, which is a tight, close-knit community. The difference being, in the BDSM community you’re really free to be yourself, and explore, and express. And there’s no judgment. So I think that ends up being really freeing for one of our characters—for Zoe.
How long has the show been running?
The first year they put two seasons together. So it’s the fifth season but the fourth year.
The show is reminiscent of Inside Amy Schumer—the outlandishness of that and Girls. Does it have a large audience outside Native communities?
It does, actually. We’re thrilled at the amount of Canadians who are tuning in. Our target audience is women 18 to 35. But we are finding that Canadians of all ages are watching, and a lot of men are watching as well. So that’s been a wonderful surprise.
Do you think in its way it’s educating the ‘mainstream’?
Yes. That is one of the goals of the show. First and foremost we want to entertain, but then within all that entertainment, you want to slip in … I want to make stuff that does more than just entertain. I want to make work that maybe makes a difference, maybe makes the world a better place. And if we can build bridges between aboriginal people and Canadians, then I think this country can become a better place, for both sides. So our catchphrase in the beginning was, ‘Welcome to our World. Just watch your back.’ And it really was a welcoming in of Canadians to see what we’re all about, and the complexity of our existence. I think Canadians only know a real superficial idea of what it is to be an aboriginal person. And if they could understand more, relate more, and have compassion, then we could get somewhere as a country.
So you’re doing your part for truth and reconciliation.
It’s such a catchword. Is it ranging too far into the political realm for me to ask how it’s going under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau versus former Prime Minister Stephen Harper?
I think anything is better than Harper. I’m optimistic about our current government. And we’ve certainly seen and heard things to be optimistic about. But it has to be more than words.
What about the ways in which women are regarded as victimized and disempowered does this combat?
Well I think just by the nature of the system that’s been set up, aboriginal people are victimized. But it’s within our power to not let that victimization define us. And I think we are doing that in spades across the country, and women are leading that—leading the way.
At the same time, what about the attention focused on missing and murdered indigenous women?
That issue is really very much tied to how Canadian society views and treats aboriginal women. So we need to acknowledge that, we need to be aware of the societal changes that need to take place so that that stops. And that is not a problem of the past; that is current. So we absolutely have to talk about that and be very aware of it until it changes.