As Indigenous people, we know that storytelling is a powerful teaching tool. Stories can introduce us to new ideas and shape our thoughts and feelings about the world. They can also inform our opinions about important political topics, places we’ve never been, and groups of people we’ve never met. But what happens when certain people are not represented in film, TV, and other popular media?
The portrayal of Indigenous peoples in film and TV, up until relatively recently, has been in the hands of white settler society. It is not entirely surprising then that the stories being told about Indigenous peoples have tended to be untrue. Rather, they tend to create and reinforce harmful stereotypes about us. Often, these stories don’t even include Native actors. This has been true not just for film and TV, but all forms of mainstream media, including video games.
Blogger, professor, and Cherokee activist, Adrienne Keene says in her blog Native Appropriations, “The last big blockbuster series to feature Native characters was the Twilight series, and we are portrayed as wolves. Think of every recent major studio film that featured a Native character. All of the ones I can think of off the top of my head were set in a historical context [in the past], were a fantasy film, or were full of stereotypes. There have been so few accurate, modern, nuanced portrayals of Native people it’s not even funny.”
In order for things to change, the way the world views Indigenous people needs to change as well. This can be done through proper storytelling, where films, TV programs, and other media are generated by Indigenous people about Indigenous people. Through the telling of our own stories, Indigenous people can change the narrative – literally – in film, television and other media.
Fortunately, we are seeing many Indigenous directors, producers, and actors stepping up to take on that challenge. Taika Waititi, the Maori director of Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit, is just one of many who has become a champion of Indigenous creators and has spoken about the importance of making sure Indigenous storytellers get the same opportunities as others.
With the social media tools available today and the spotlight on the need for Indigenous-led storytelling, we exist in a time where the possibilities are endless. Creators don’t need to wait for their “big break” for their voices to be heard. There are others working to elevate our voices as well, such as Illuminative – a U.S. based organization that seeks to correct the stories that have been told about Native people.
Want to learn more about other Indigenous people blazing the way forward in film, TV, and other media? Check out the additional resources below.
- Never Alone and Mulaka – video games created by and in cooperation with Iñupiaq and Tarahumara people
- Reservation Dogs – comedy series about 4 Native teenagers in Oklahoma created by Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo
- Episode #7 Native Appropriations – In this podcast episode, All My Relations explores the topic of cultural appropriation—it’s become such a buzzword, but what is it, really?
- This article and this article – learn about Indigenous Representation in Media and The Movement Creating a Better Native American Representation in Film
- ImagiNATIVE – a media arts festival that features work by Indigenous creators
- Sundance Indigenous Program – to support and elevate Indigenous creators
- Unreserved – podcast episode on Celebrating Indigenous Filmmakers
- 15 Beautiful Indigenous Comic Books and Video Games for Kids