Little things make a big difference.
Look, expecting intelligent content from an Adam Sandler movie is like expecting an honest statement from Vanilla Ice about where he’s from. Pointless. He makes stupid sh!t. Absolutely, the content of the movie The Ridiculous Six is stupid but so is the content of Happy Gilmore (one of my favorite movies), Blended (including a minstrel show African safari with Terry Crews as head coon), Billy Madison (complete with a huge penguin) and literally every single other Adam Sandler movie ever made.
He makes idiotic and sometimes racist content. We get it.
Therefore, if we’re bemoaning the actual content of an Adam Sandler movie, we’re simultaneously 1) inadvertently playing Captain Obvious and 2) missing the opportunity to talk about something much, much larger.
First, thank God that there’s some from this generation of Native actors and actresses who are willing to put principle over profit and NOT simply take a check from the most recent despicable depiction of Native people. Allison Young, David Hill, Loren Anthony and the other actors who left—thank you for your willingness to sacrifice for the good of Native children. Those were small steps in the grand scheme of things, but they were HUGE steps for Native self-esteem! I honestly don’t even blame the folks who stayed—I get it, times are rough and you gotta pay bills. I just pray that you don’t have to pay bills like this in the near future.
To the actresses and actors who took the small steps to walk off the set though—love and prayers to you for your powerful, powerful stance. Small steps add up.
Also, it’s important to note that I think it’s perfectly fine to make fun of Native people—there is 100% a place for satire or goofy humor and nobody is above some good teasing or even ridicule. We do it to ourselves all the time (check out Steven Paul Judd’s recent short film, Ronnie Bodean for an example of that). However, it’s also important to note that when it’s only one group that gets made fun of and there’s no deeper significance to the humor, that’s NOT satire. That is bullying. That is racial stereotype. That is racist.
And that’s expected—many white people do not expect humane treatment of Native people. They don’t expect us to stand up for ourselves. That’s why these young actresses and actors actions were spectacular—because history has beaten down our self-esteem sometimes to the point where we don’t even react or expect humane treatment.
Word to the wise: Adam Sandler is not going to magically start making intelligent movies. Promise. He is too rich and arrogant and unspiritual to realize that an organization created by individuals within his culture—the Anti-Defamation League, started by Jewish Americans—was started precisely to combat the kinds of portrayals of Jewish people as his movie made of Natives in The Ridiculous Six. He doesn’t care that he’s a hypocrite and that’s why he hasn’t responded—he’s rich!
Apparently spirituality and conscience goes out the window when one acquires wealth. If that’s the case, I honestly hope I never get rich.
Anyway, that’s not a surprise. What IS surprising is the lame, condescending and tired excuse provided by Netflix—that, essentially, Native people are “in on the joke.” This is more troubling than Sandler’s idiocy—at least he’s staying true to form. Netflix, however, is breaking new ground and flaunting the sad truth that they don’t mind swimming in the water of SO many other patriarchal, arrogant white folks in relation to Native people—they’re talking for us, telling us how we feel. This is an extension of the Justice John Marshall “domestic, dependent nations” logic, that somehow Native people are unqualified to feel for ourselves and tell others how we feel.
We Natives need someone to interpret the way we feel for us. Like a ward needs his guardian.
Let me be honest—I LOVE Netflix. I hope Netflix does the right thing! I have had Netflix for years and dig their distribution model and up until last week’s condescension to Native people, I’ve watched Jack Reacher on Netflix at least once a week for the past year. But life is full of uncomfortable decisions and those brave actresses and actors literally put their careers on the line for the sake of integrity—the least I can do it put Jack Reacher up for a little while. You folks inspired me. And those brave actresses and actors, whether that was their intent or not, said that it is NOT OK for non-Natives to speak for Native people (or even for Native people to speak for other Natives as has happened during other social justice movements). Condoning white people speaking for us is arrogant, it’s ugly and it’s a throwback to a time when Native people simply did not have the access to media that we do today.
Therefore, until Netflix chooses to acknowledge Native voices and meet and confer with members of our community in a public forum, I’m getting off of Netflix. I encourage you folks to do the same—they do not value your opinions and don’t even acknowledge when a group of Native people asks them to consider a reasonable position. Mind you, I’m not saying “Screw Netflix forever and ever!”
Respectfully, I ask that you consider the larger picture—distributors actually considering Native people the same way that they consider every other ethnic group—until they come correct.
This ain’t angry Indian, this is practical Indian. Self-preservation and self-respect and not allowing outsiders to tell a WHOLE RACE OF PEOPLE how we’re supposed to feel.
That’s exactly what Netflix did and until there’s an honest conversation about what’s wrong with that, I strongly encourage you all to cancel your Netflix subscription.
These small steps add up when we talk about reclaiming Native self-esteem. It’s small, admittedly, but it’s a start—we can’t allow ourselves to simply get picked on. Thank you brave actresses and actors for reminding me.
'Mother and Child—Apsaroke' by Edward S. Curtis. Source: Library of Congress.
Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
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