MTV released it’s latest season seven episode of a “Native American Love Story” in which a Navajo woman and single mother Shirlene was led to believe she was in an online romantic relationship of sorts with another Navajo and Zuni man by the name of James.
When Shirlene failed to connect with James after several attempts due to a plethora of reasons, Shirlene reached out to the MTV show Catfish, hosted by full-time host Nev Schulman and occasional co-host Kamie Crawford.
During the course of their search of details relayed to them by Shirlene, Nev and Kamie discovered her potential online love interest was also Native, thus the hosts dubbed the episode a “Native American love story.”
The episode was filled with questionable actions by James according to Shirlene. James said he had two daughters that had died. He also would only text on the phone when Shirlene was speaking. Eventually, James’ supposed sister had said James had died, then later retracted the comments to say James had been arrested.
Jokes came out that James had come back to life.
After researching the telephone number, the IP address of an accessed link by ‘James” Nev, and even traveling to Tuba City to inquire if James was in jail, Nev, Camie and Shirline eventually learned the truth.
If you don’t wish to know the reveal of the episode, you can watch it on MTV’s website here:
The bomb drops, the spoiler to the catfish episode
As revealed in the seventh season episode, James was not James at all. As the term ‘catfish’ implies on social media — a person taking on the identity of another person — James was another person entirely.
James was an 18-year-old Navajo and Zuni girl named Mya. During the course of the episode, Mya admitted to having potential feelings for Shirlene but asserted she was concerned about opposition to her traditional teachings. Nev and Camie discussed her possible intentions toward Shirlene, arguably ‘outing’ Mya as a possible member of the LGBTQ2S community.
Mya discussed her reason for ‘catfishing’ Shirlene as the fictitious person James. She said she was desiring to speak with someone otherwise she “would have no one else to talk to,” and that she still felt pain from her sister that had died, and having had to go through the pain of foster care.
The character James’ — who did not appear in the episode — does have the real identity of Dyami Thomas, a model, and speaker and an enrolled member of the Klamath tribe in Oregon.
Indian Country Responds
AnTro Shemayme, a YRC Coordinator at La Plazita Institute posted a lengthy commentary on Facebook as to the potential harm the catfish episode could have on Mya and Shirlene.
He said in part:
Some deeper perspective from a sister on the NATIVE CATFISH Show that was aired last night:
[I] watched the latest catfish episode in full regarding our Diné/Zuni relatives. And I felt disappointed... it made me think how insensitive shows like this are to the cultural, spiritual and social/political subtleties and nuances that exist in the communities they are occupying for sake of entertainment. And how their prioritizing of entertainment over the safety and well-being of community members is dangerous.
For example, this show exposed someone who was catfishing someone else, which was morally wrong. Yet the context for why it happened was rooted in that individual’s pain, and mode of operating from that pain. -Pain rooted in colonial violence and symptoms of trauma... pain rooted in the tragic loss of loved ones, the lack of acceptance of LGBTQ and homophobia in Indian country, the impacts of the foster care system waged against Indigenous youth, etc.
And I worry about the response of Local Native Communities watching this episode, who afterward likely may engage in lateral violence against this person as a form of backlash from the show.
Not to mention that this person was outted publicly without their consent about being an LGBTQ relative: I worry this could push a person to suicide or self-harm. Deeper shame and isolation. Despair. All for entertainment.
Other comments came up on Twitter asserting Mya was forced to announce her sexuality, which was insensitive.
Rachel Sansonetti wrote: “@CatfishMTV @NevSchulman watching "Shirlene and James". Mya is 18 and is going through a tough time on the reservation - DON'T FORCE HER TO COME OUT. #insensitive
Dyami Thomas responds
In addition to the backlash, a lot of negative memes, commentary and other unsupportive sentiments were directed at both Shirlene and Mya, which Indian Country Today will not share in this article.
On a Facebook live post, Dyami Thomas told the viewers of the video that he had spoken personally with Shirlene and that she had been inundated with negative comments and that she was debating on deleting all of her social media accounts.
“I spoke with her … Shirlene, the woman that was catfished, just wants to be left alone… you really have to give her some space. Stop putting memes up that are negative about her and the other girl who did the catfish. They learned their lesson, they came forward… Please, everyone, for the love of God, leave them alone… they are really having a hard time right now,” said Thomas on the video.
Watch the video here of Dyami Thomas.
MTV's Catfish airs Wednesdays at 8/7c