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Native Nerd: It's been 'tough' for critics

Indian Country Today newscast for Tuesday September 10, 2020 with guest Vincent Schilling, associate producer.

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today

Movie theaters are beginning to open up throughout the country after months of closure and actors are going back on set with precautions. Vincent Schilling is our associate editor and he is joining us today to talk about the state of movies, film production, and the pandemic. Also on our show is Mary Annette Pember, National Correspondent covering the Ojibwe rice harvest. 

A few comments from Vincent Schilling:

“I'm one of these people who is a little hesitant to go to a theater yet, and as folks know I do #NativeNerd movie reviews pretty much weekly. It's really tough for reviewers these days, honestly, because a lot of things are not always video on demand. For example, The New Mutants couldn't get me a screener to review it because the company had signed agreements that they would only show in theaters. So I think that hurt them a little bit, although they did make $7 million in the first weekend, some of the reviews have been kind of tough.”

“The interesting thing about The New Mutants, I'll kind of say some things about it without revealing any spoilers, They are mutants who have done something egregious or that is considered a crime and are imprisoned at an asylum. And among these is Danielle Moonstar, who is played by Blu Hunt.

There was a little bit of a controversy in Indian Country. I saw a lot of social media commenting on the fact that one of the characters, Magik, one of these kids who are in an asylum, uses some really racist terminology. I've seen some of the clips where she says something like, ‘Why don't you just go back to Standing Rock' and calls her Pocahontas and pretty tough stuff as far as racism goes.”

“So the thought is, 'Well does the movie industry just avoid this altogether? Or can they still admit that there are racist people out there and is someone who is Native going to experience such behaviors?' I don't know what I quite think yet because I haven't seen the movie. I haven't seen the context, but my initial reaction is a sense of, ‘Well, you know, there is racism out there and, you know, to avoid it would be to ignore the elephant in the living room, so to speak.’ But did they go too far? I don't know yet again, the jury's out. I haven't seen it yet.”

“There's a lot of things going on in the movie industry now, theaters are opening using COVID safe techniques. I was offered to see, by a production company, to see Tenet, one of the new movies who has made a ton of money already. I think people are getting kind of stir crazy. They want to go to the theater, but they said, ‘well, we can't get you a screener, but we can get you into a theater.’ And I said, ‘well, you know, honestly, I'm just not ready to be there yet.’ So it's a little tough for at least the critics are concerned anyway.”

“I had a long conversation with Michael Greyeyes as well as Loren Anthony, two actors who I know and I am very appreciative of the work they do. Michael Greyeyes was telling me he recently got into production and they had to go in essentially COVID quarantine. And his set was essentially a closed set.”

(See related: Michael Greyeyes: 'When I was growing up, I didn't see my community reflected on screens') 

“He was apprehensive but also antsy to get back to work. And it was tough. You know, we had Tatanka Means on this show, talking about some of the things he was doing. He saw all of his gigs at the beginning and the onset of COVID completely stop.”

(See related: Healing through humor with Tatanka Means)  

Loren Anthony, he's a Navajo actor, Dine' actor, and he's really doing some great stuff. And he just got a gig for 12 days in Los Angeles. And he reaches out to the community quite a bit in terms of helping through his organization, 'Chizh for Cheii', that helps elders, delivers food, and fixes the roofs of elders as well. They chop wood and he just got a job, so he's like, “as much as I'm hesitant to go back at the same time, to be frank, you know, actors need money too, you know, to live.’”

“Things may be a little intense right now, but I think people are practicing safe practices in terms of COVID. And you know, I'm glad to see them getting back to work. And I really want to support them if people are really practicing safe practices.”

“To have a quarantine in a closed set is showing some pretty good responsibility in the industry. And I can't help but appreciate that.”

“Many of you probably know that the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, which began a couple of years ago due to frustrations by Jada Pinkett Smith, she's the one who started it. I actually covered that story and that movement took off and people listened and folks at the Academy are listening.”

“I'm working on a story right now, literally about the diversity efforts for, you know actors of color and inclusion and diversity. And I haven't got all the details yet, I do know that there are some initiatives to create complete inclusion, to be even considered for an Oscar and the next upcoming years, they just did some stories on this and I'm still researching this now.”

“I'm getting some pretty good news as far as, you know, there are extensive and intensive efforts to really, really create diversity in the industry, which is a really a really promising thing to see.”

“I have to tip my hat to Rene Haynes. Rene Haynes is a casting director who has been working in the industry for the benefit of Native people for a long, long time. She did some work as far back as ‘Dances With Wolves,’ and she's really put in a lot of efforts to be as inclusive as possible in terms of Native people in Native roles.”

“Rene Hanes, I was just speaking of, just put a massive call out to young kids between, I think it was like six to 10 years old who could sing. And these young kids, whoever, you know, has auditioned these roles will be for an animated series for young kids who sing in an Indigenous made, Indigenous written, produced, directed animated series. So, there is stuff going on everywhere.”

(See related: Native kid singers open call for a new animated series)

(See related: #NativeNerd review: Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ with Chadwick Boseman and ‘The Eight Hundred’)

Mary Annette Pember:

“Yes, well recently the Democratic party, the campaign for Biden and Harris actually convened an online talking circle for Native people and it ended up being a talking circle of just Native women because the one man that they had scheduled dropped out. It was women from key swing States, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, in which Native people likely could play a really significant role in determining who might be the next president of the United States.

“There are some interesting things at play in which Native people could make a significant difference.”

“Yeah, so people individually were in their respective dens or living rooms or dining room and they had people convening it, actually Peggy Flanagan whose Lieutenant governor of Minnesota, a Democrat of course. She helped convene that meeting and some ways it was I think that you got to really hear more of what the people were saying, and you got to focus a little bit more.”

“There were some technical glitches, you know, sometimes these Zoom meetings freeze and various things, but in some ways, I think you get an opportunity to focus a little bit more on what each of the people are saying. So it was sort of unique and interesting, what's evolving.”

“It should be really interesting. It's kind of exciting to witness this.”

“We're in the midst of harvesting Manoomin in the Ojibwe language, which is ‘the sacred seed’ and wild rice. It's not really rice, it's actually an aquatic plant. And it has been a staple for Ojibwe and the tribes around the Great Lakes region. It grows in lakes and rivers in that region and it has been a staple for us for hundreds of years.”

“According to the teachings that I have heard, that we migrated to that area, like maybe about a thousand years ago from Nova Scotia. And we came to the area because that was the place where quote, unquote, ‘the food grows on the water.’ And so that plays a significant role. I sort of call it a broad spectrum like medicine, really, because it's nutritional, it has cultural implications and import force and spiritual importance and social importance as well.”

“During this season, people will take their canoes and they will go out into the various wild rice beds. It's sort of a naturally socially distanced activity because you're not going to be around a big crowd of people, otherwise, you're probably going to swamp your canoe. And although when one swamps the canoe, we will joke with each other, ‘oh, you're reseeding today,’ which means, cause it's harvest, some of the rice goes back into the water and that it naturally reseeds itself.”

“I spoke to a lot of elders and they were saying to me, during tough times, you could always cook up a kettle of rice and it's something that always has sustained us.”

“The actual activity is a marvelous social opportunity to visit or so Ojibwe loves to visit with each other.”

“One of the positive impacts of the pandemic is that people have time. If you're working, taking off time to go out and rice, and sometimes at that time is very precious. I think people are savoring it at that time and its sort of an opportunity for some normalcy. This is something that we would normally do every year anyway. So I think people are really enjoying it this year. That's, that's what I'm hearing.”

“It has been a really lovely story to work on. And I'm delighted to be able to present that to people probably next week.”

Also in the newscast, Deputy Managing Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest positive COVID-19 test numbers in Indian Country.

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider. Based in Phoenix, Arizona. Talahongva enjoys hiking, reading and traveling to new places.

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