Actress Michelle Williams, who appears in the film Oz: The Great and Powerful, is featured on the cover of the Spring/Summer issue of AnOther Magazine dressed as an Indian — a styling choice that is not going over well in Indian country.
In the photo, Williams wears long braids, beads, feathers, and what Ruth Hopkins described at Jezebel.com as "a decidedly stoic expression." But Wiliams' outfit eschews regalia, consisting instead of flannel jeans, and a robe. "Are they endeavoring to capture the spirit of the American Indian Movement (AIM) circa 1973?" Hopkins, an ICTMN contributor, wondered. "Is this an ad for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) or the American Indian College Fund (AICF)? Nope. It's a 33 year old white actress hyping her latest Hollywood project by wearing a cheap costume designed to make her look like she's the member of another race."
Connecting some dots, Hopkins and others see an issue that goes beyond a single ill-advised photograph.
For starters, Williams' current screen role is as Glinda, a witch in the fantasy world created by L. Frank Baum of Wonderful Wizard of Oz fame. (Note the tagline on the magazie cover: "There's No Place Like Home") It is a lesser-known fact — though better known among Indians than non-Indians — that Baum wrote two virulently anti-Indian editorials while he was editor of the Aberdeen, SD-based Saturday Pioneer. It is safe to say that Baum isn't Indian country's favorite children's author. It's a pity Williams didn't know that, or keep it in mind, when she sat for an interview with the L.A. Times last week. “Quadlings, Tinkers and Munchkins didn’t mean much to me; it wasn’t my language,” Williams said, referring to various races depicted in Baum's world. “But when I thought of them as Native Americans trying to inhabit their land or about women getting the right to vote, it made a lot more sense.”
That remark was the basis for the headline of Aura Bogado's piece at TheNation.com: "Native Americans Are Not Munchkins: An Open Letter to Michelle Williams." "I hope you’ll read through this letter and think twice before once again choosing to participate in actions that preserve deeply racist convictions in popular culture," Bogado writes. "By wearing a braided wig and donning feathers, and calling that 'Native American' in a photo shoot, you’re perpetuating the lazy idea that Natives are all one and the same. Because you were born and spent your childhood in Montana, I expected more from you."