When I was younger, I acted in some of the Twilight movies. I played a shape-shifting werewolf who was a member of a fictionalized version of the Quileute Tribe, a real Native American tribe in Washington. In light of the media coverage that Adam Sandler's newest racist pile of shit is receiving due to some Native American actors walking off the set because it's a racist pile of shit, I felt compelled to offer some insight up for public consumption from my own experiences as an Indigenous actor who has dealt with racism in the film industry. First of all I should note that I am fully aware of The Twilight Saga's problematic portrayal of Native Americans and the appropriation of real Quileute myths and traditions into fantasy. I say 'problematic' because these films offer the image of Native Americans basically as mythical creatures, but they are also some of the few Hollywood blockbusters depicting contemporary Native characters as opposed to fake historic relics of a romanticized early American frontier.
I knew that the character I was playing was problematic and I still did it because it was a huge opportunity. This problematic portrayal was never discussed on-set between actors or writers—it was kind of an elephant in the room. It's easy to take a moral stance on something but as we all know it's a lot fucking harder to stand by your morals when they are put to the test, which is why I have nothing but praise for the group of actors who were able to stick to their guns and walk off the set of Sandler's ridiculous shitpile. Indigenous actors face struggles of misrepresentation all the time, from racist typecasting to insensitive and false historical research, and I know from experience that it takes a great deal of courage to stand up to this. Unfortunately, the majority of the roles in film and TV for Indigenous actors are for characters like "the brave" or "the savage," one-liner characters that do nothing but add some colour to background shots or get killed when they foolishly attack the (white) protagonist (all of this comes from personal audition experience). So the attention this story has received over the past week goes to show that a good deal of people are ready to break free from the perpetuation of these ancient stereotypes. Regardless of that, this film will still be made.
So why have these stereotypes been allowed to persist in the Hollywood machine for so long? Why, in 2015, does Adam Sandler think it's okay to write female characters named "No Bra" and "Beaver's Breath" and to reduce an entire group of human beings into caricature? The "Hollywood Indian" stereotype has been allowed to endure because the image of an oppressed, colonized culture looks better from the perspective of the colonizers before that culture started being oppressed. Hollywood prefers its silent, stoic noble savage to any real modern day depiction of indigeneity in film. Colonial North American society is still more comfortable with their romanticized image of a proud race of people who once graced an untouched landscape and have since subserviently and willingly disappeared into the shadows to make way for the "rightful" owners of that landscape to manifest their destiny. This idea of the "vanishing Indian" has been vital to the relieving of colonial guilt because if we don't have to see them then we can just pretend their culture must be gone. Hence shoving us on tiny plots of land called reservations.
Postcolonialism sounds great as a concept—the idea that now that Indigenous-Settler relations are all cleared up we can comment, critique, and engage in discourse on North America's troubling history. But I've always had a problem with the semantics of that word in reference to North American society because the "post-" implies that we are past the stages of colonization, when in reality Indigenous society is still experiencing the oppressive and damaging effects of colonization today. We live in a contemporary colonial society, where the practise still runs rampant because the goals of complete colonization have not been achieved and, contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, we have not been wiped out. Government efforts made to destroy our culturedid not work, and for the first time since European contact, the population of Indigenous people on Turtle Island is actually increasing instead of decreasing.
In the original article posted on Indian Country Today Media Network one of the actors who walked, Alison Young, was quoted as saying, "The producers just told us, 'If you guys are so sensitive, you should just leave.'" The ignorance of this comment lies in the insincere and common "fake apology" which usually sounds something like, "I'm sorry if you are offended," or "It's not my fault that you are offended" and usually always ends with: "You should just get over it." This ignorance lies in the distancing nature of thinking the effects of colonialism are over with, when in reality, the destruction caused by colonial measures such as residential schools have had effects so damaging that they have passed through generations and continue to affect our people to various degrees to this day.
Sandler's blatant racism and insensitivity adds a massive amount of insult to centuries of injury toward a group of people, given that just a little over 100 years ago it was perfectly acceptable to hunt down and sell their scalps for $25. There's an ignorance to this situation that's being displayed if this entitled old comedian and his producers think that they can get away with making fun of that same group of people that happens to still be marginalized and oppressed by their dominant settler colonial society to this day.
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