I’ve noticed a rising trend over the weekend. In opposition of Adam Sandler’s The “Ridiculous Six,” many people are deactivating their accounts in hopes that Netflix will cancel its production.
I am not surprised on Sandler’s depiction of Natives.
Seriously, we have been resisting stereotypical representation since as early as the 1920s (do yourself a favor click on this hyperlink: War Paint Club), just thought I’d toss that in there before Matthew McConaughey says Hollywood stereotypes are new or something. Jerk needs to read this.
No, I will not deactivate my Netflix account. I will not #WalkOffNetflix. It’s not because I’m in the middle of the second season of “House of Cards” or biting my nails in anticipation of the third season of “Orange is the New Black.” It’s because of the films. Native films, bro.
Let me tell you first about my weekend. I live in Tamale-wood (that’s Albuquerque, New Mexico) and Gathering of Nations had just concluded. I, myself, had been pretty busy with a staged reading of my adaptation of “Mother Courage” – think Brecht meets the Trail of Tears, (sorry for the selfless self-promotion) and rubbing elbows with Indian country’s rising powerhouses. Yesterday, after all the events had concluded, I finally came to my apartment and powered up Netflix to watch a movie of which I had been anxiously awaiting, “The Babadook.” Amazing film, it is. I checked my Facebook before starting the movie. That’s when I noticed the growing number of people deactivating their accounts to protest “The Ridiculous Six” with #WalkOffNetlflix. I promised after “The Babadook” I’d join in on the action. Didn’t happen.
After the amazingness of “The Babadook,” I looked up information about it. That’s when I discovered that it had been produced and directed entirely in South Australia. Forgive me, but like any good ‘Merican, I confuse Australia and New Zealand. Another movie that instantly popped into my head filmed in that part of the world was “Boy” by Taika Waititi (New Zealand) as well as “Bran Nue Dae” (Australian), some amazing films written directed produced by First Nation people. That’s when it hit me. I can’t and won’t deactivate my Netflix because of films such as these that are on Netflix’s catalog.
I am a filmmaker myself and know how difficult it can be to make a film and even more so to distribute the film so that many people can see it. Half the battle is making the darn thing and the rest is getting a venue to show it to people. Netflix as a distributing company enables Native filmmakers to show their films to a vast variety of people who wouldn’t have been able to make a theatrical showing. I hope that one day I will direct a script I’ve written and have the option to distribute it through Netflix’s services.
Netflix is a company. It’s not a person with which can be reasoned. It will not understand a conversation on how degrading and damaging ‘injun’ stereotypes can be (I’ll recommend a movie that addresses that. It’s also on Netflix!). As a company, Netflix understands numbers. Yes, the more people that deactivate their accounts, the louder the message they’ll hear. That’s forcing them to our will, not educating them to our cause. The latter will have a much longer lasting effect. We as a unified movement have that power to either force them or education them. We have to education them. While forcing them to our will might reap short term effects, such as canceling “The Ridiculous Six,” we must think of the long run and what long term effects we can achieve.
Hollywood, and by extension Netflix and Adam Sandler, do not care about the representation of Native Americans. Since its birth, Hollywood and its byproducts have never been about telling our stories. Hollywood is a business that understands ratings, viewing numbers and consumer demand. Adam Sandler, and other big name Hollywood actors, are attached to projects to reduce risk so that investors will have more confidence that their initial investment will reap financial returns once the movie is released. What does that mean for Native films? Hollywood, unfortunately, thinks that Native films do not have a market and thusly are a high-risk, low return financial investment. In other words, Native films are a waste of money.
This is why I am imploring you to not deactivate your account. Instead, watch a film made by a Native person. There are many, many great films that you can watch. As of right now, in the United States Netflix streaming catalog, you can watch Neil Diamond’s “Reel Injun,” a documentary about ‘injun’ stereotypes, Jeff Barnaby’s “Rhymes for Young Ghouls,” (every single millisecond oozes style and captivates); Sterlin Harjo’s latest film, “This May Be The Last Time;” the classic, “Smoke Signals,” and “Jimmy P” – not necessarily a Native film, but a film about a Native, starring Benicio Del Toro.
Several movies in Netflix’s DVD catalog include, “The Lesser Blessed” (watch this!), and the above mentioned “Boy” and “Bran Nue Dae,” and “Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story.” There’s even “Longmire,” which have Native actors (yours truly included, again shameless self-promotion). Heck, even “Breaking Bad” has Jeremiah Bitsui, a Navajo actor.
Companies respond to demand. We can complain all we want about how Hollywood doesn’t depict Natives accurately, but we’ve been doing that since the 1920s. Has that worked? What keeps happening? Hollywood keeps on crapping out their ‘injun’ and we keep on slapping their wrist. The only true way to combat and disassemble stereotypes is to represent ourselves with our own films, our own books (If I Ever Get Out of Here, Eric Gainsworth), and our own comics (Native Steel, anyone? Can’t wait!). If you want accurate representation, put your money where your mouth is and keep your Netflix account active and watch yourself a Native film.
We can’t just throw a fit and say, “Natives have dealt with negative stereotypes on film for long enough” and expect change. Which brings me to another topic: Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, you can’t expect us to forget that you yourself had attended a Washington Redskin football game fully decked out in their team insignia! Shame on you! Stereotypes on the film and on the field are the same thing. You, Ben Shelly, cannot condemn one and support the other.
OK, back to the subject.
We have an amazing opportunity here to change an ugly scenario to one of progress. It is my hope that Netflix, as a production company, will see our unified support of Native films by saturating their viewing numbers. We can demonstrate this is what we want is self-representation, not that “Sits-On-Face” and “Beaver Breath” bull. But here’s the kicker: It has to be Netflix. It can’t be Amazon or Hulu wherein we watch these films. Why? Did Amazon or Hulu produce “The Ridiculous Six”? No, they didn’t. Also, Netflix will have no way of counting the viewership if we watch a movie on Amazon or Hulu. By saturating Netflix’s viewing numbers, we gain consumer strength and an important undeniable voice that says we want native films in their catalog.
It is also my greatest of greatest hopes that through all this mess, Netflix will come to the realization that Native films have an audience and that we are a worthwhile consumer base who are eager for meaningful content. With unified consumer strength, we can leverage Netflix to increase Native films (“Drunktown’s Finest,” yes?) in their streaming catalog so that more people will have access to stronger representations of native people. That, and this. With a strong enough unified consumer strength, we can also demand that Netflix produce a film or TV series made by Native directors and actors. Wouldn’t that be something? Who has two thumbs and has some scripts to pitch? This guy! Okay I’m not really that sorry for self-promoting. I’m willing to bet my last dollar that I’m not the only native screenwriter with scripts salivating at the chance to get them produced. But this will only happen if we can saturate viewing numbers of Native films on Netflix.
So, let’s get off our butts, rather in this situation, get on our butts and watch us some Native films on May 3 around 7 p.m. MST. Let’s increasing viewership and leverage Netflix to increase their Native film catalog and produce a movie or series made by Natives. I’m going to watch Sterlin Harjo’s “This May Be The Last Time.” What will you watch? #VivaNativeCinema
Brian Young is a Navajo filmmaker and writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in film studies.