May 4, 2015 - ‘The Ridiculous Six’ and Rejecting Hollywood’s Racism by Hillary Kempenich

Our Indigenous People are undergoing a ‘silent’ genocide right now in modern times. Thousands of Indigenous women and children are kidnapped, trafficked, raped and murdered continually across the U.S. and Canada without acknowledgement from the general public. Men are being murdered without our law enforcement acting on it. Movements are finally beginning to take shape, to evolve, and gain momentum. Yet as this momentum builds, we seem to have others that quickly want to create roadblocks. So forgive me Mr. Sandler, Netflix, Mr. Van Winkle and other critiques when I loudly object to this film, I have to say you cannot even begin to understand why this new film’s dialogue is upsetting.

Must we walk down this path over and over again? Here I find myself spending energy on explaining to friends, acquaintances and to the general public why it is not acceptable to demean a group of people. Often I see how women, especially Native women, being disrespected and belittled. I do not find it wasted energy, knowing that if I could educate, make a difference in one person’s thought process, then it is worth it. However, while I am not surprised, I do find it frustrating that in this day and age, we have to put a lot of effort in demanding respect. I do not understand why it has to be demanded, it should just be universally common sense.

In the last week, my newsfeed and twitter feed filled with outrage over a Netflix film “The Ridiculous Six” starring Adam Sandler, Vanilla Ice, Nick Nolte as well as Will Forte, Taylor Lautner, Steve Buscemi, Terry Crews, Luke Wilson, and Rob Schneider. Pages of the script have surfaced quickly, as well as a video where the actors attempted to discuss their concerns of the film. There were claims made prior to the film that there was a Cultural Consultant hired to ensure accuracy of Apache people, and to keep things “tasteful.” Obviously things quickly spiraled downward, several actors & actresses in the film, as well as the Cultural Consultant, walked off the set after failed attempts of dialogue with the director about the offensive nature in this film.

Everything about this movie seems to go down the wrong path. I admit, I love spoofs, I can sit and giggle through many comedies, however, as I read the scripts that are circulating, and now reading the responses, it is clear that this film will only add to the negative attitudes to a culture that is misunderstood. Here is a film where 566 federally recognized tribes are getting boiled into one, labeling it and demeaning the women in particular. The film is currently being filmed and many Native people are being harassed, insulted and belittled. I have heard that people need to “lighten up” or “don’t have a sense of humor.” My response to that is to stop seeking the ‘Hollywood Indian’ or ‘romanticized Indian,’ and get to really know the many Indigenous people that live here in North America.

In what is known as “Indian Country,” we have a plethora of comedians that could certainly help in the writing, guidance and direction of this Comedy Film. I highly encourage looking into Comedians such as the 1491s, Tonia Jo Hall, Tatanka Means, Adrianne Chalepah, Teresa Choyguha, and Deanna M.A.D. (Actually I wish I could meet my Aunt Tiny- the funniest person I know.) I live away from the Turtle Mountains, my homeland, and I always look forward to visits, knowing it is going to be filled with laughter. Thank goodness for Social Media, when I get a little blue, I can quickly look up these people and minutes later I’m giggling. We are Hilarious! We do not have to resort to stereotypes, gender bashing, extreme insults to laugh. That’s the key, laugh with each other not at each other. I cannot ever look at a Native Woman and call her “Beaver Breath” expecting her to laugh.

Indigenous people, or any group of people for that matter, shouldn’t have to settle to be abused to be involved in the Entertainment Business. We need to change that mindset of settling or “selling out.” It seems as if we are stuck in this expectation created by Wild Bill to play only certain roles on the Big Screen and even in real day-to-day life.

Unfortunately, society tends to rely on the Big Screen and Social Media to get to know the world. What they view gets misconstrued as truth and as acceptable behavior. I cannot even count how many times I’ve had to correct someone’s ideas based off of inaccurate movies, even if these people are aware these films are fiction. I have had the displeasure of being called a Squaw many times, which from a child, I knew this was a slur, an insult. And today I still find myself calling people out using the term so freely. We recently had the displeasure of finding the Dsquared2 fashion line not only taking part in Cultural Appropriation but to attempt in using the hashtag #dsquaw to create a buzz. Media quickly caught on, yet we never had the gratification of Dan & Dean Caten acknowledge the poor choices that they made and apologize.

I sigh with sadness that in today’s world we have the opportunity to do right. To learn from our world histories’ wrongdoings, and I am disappointed that someone like Mr. Sandler would make light of those still recovering from ongoing Genocide happening to the Indigenous people of America, as his family is familiar with such awful historical detriments.

I implore everyone who may have the slightest curiosity or interest in the Indigenous people, to watch their movies, read their books, and attend their shows. While the entertainers, the performers and the writers may not portray every person of the 566 tribes here in this country, it is going to have a far better insight and representation.

To those who walked off the set, Chi Miigwetch, Many Thanks, for standing up for what is right when it isn’t always the easiest choice to make. While for some in the industry it can be lucrative, for others it is not. You made a choice that will follow you, and hopefully for the positive, yet we acknowledge that it may have backlash as well. Stand proud, and we will stand proud with you. Brighter days are ahead.

Hillary Kempenich (Ojibwe)

Last Real Indians