Following a walkout on the set of Adam Sandler's film The Ridiculous Six, Native Women in Film and Television formed a board of trustees to monitor the film industry and advise it on current and future controversies.
"Native American women in the United States are suffering at astonishing rates of domestic and sexual violence—violence which is further displayed throughout television and film," said trustee Deborah Parker, Tulalip/Yaqui, former Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes, in a press release. "Demeaning portrayals of Native American women further diminish the cultural and historical importance of Native women in today’s society. Further marginalization is exactly what we do not need in film and television. This next generation is looking for hope and inspiration and not sexual degradation of their sisters, mothers and grandmothers."
Poet and playwright Carolyn Dunn, another of the trustees, called objectification of Native women "a form of cultural and social genocide that still exists today." "The demeaning of Native women is an ongoing violence against us that not only is immoral but illegal under the provisions of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)," she added. "This needs to be addressed as not only a human rights issue, but as an act that violates federal legislation, which is a prosecutable offense."
The powerhouse group of five also includes Theda Newbreast, (Montana Blackfeet) a founding board member for the Native Wellness Institute (NWI) and Linda Tenequer (Muscogee Creek Nation), former global business development writer for a private Fortune 500 company. Rounding it out is founder Joanelle Romero (Apache), who is also founder of the Red Nation Film Festival.
Romero shared her feelings on the Ridiculous Six situation with ICTMN. "When it comes to Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six movie depicting a Native American woman urinating while smoking a peace pipe, it is unholy," she said. "I am Apache, Cheyenne and Sephardic Jew so I can say that it would be like me getting the Torah, throwing it on the ground and peeing on it for a scene in a film. I am using this kind of language because the picture really needs to be painted for these guys to really get it, they need to get the seriousness and the desecration of the whole thing."
Romero mentioned another scene she feels is likely to have a detrimental effect. "The scene involving the alcohol, in which the woman comes out and all of these white guys poor alcohol on this native woman, who is played by a non-Native actress, and she gets up and performs a crazy dance? This will just perpetuate violence against our women. Adam Sandler is targeting our Native women. And not just Native women, but all women."
"And these bizarre names that they have come up with? Our kids and our little girls are now going to be targeted by boys. This is really serious. I have been in this business going on four decades and I have never stood up to a film like I am doing this one."
Newbreast also weighed in on the consequences of Ridiculous Six's brand of humor: "Sarcasm is often used as act of violence called verbal lateral oppression. This abuse hurts Natives and isn’t funny."
Romero said that the board of trustees aimed to make Native Women in Film and Television "a 'go-to' place where as a collective group we can educate, let people know what is appropriate and help them to connect with other people who can help them."
Asked whether there are any solutions to the Ridiculous Six situation, Romero had plenty to say: "We have an entire list of things they can do—the first thing they can do is rewrite it and re-shoot it. The second is, if they don't do this, then do not screen or broadcast this. The third thing is to meet with our Native Women In Film and Television panel to discuss a truly phenomenal list of things they can do that would make them look good in the eyes of the community."
Romero says that Adam Sandler needs to learn the magnitude of what he has done. She issued a challenge on behalf of the Native Women in Film and Television board:
"Meet with us Adam Sandler, What are you afraid of?"