Mar 23, 2016 - The $5 Billion Dollar Erasure of Native Americans from “Oscars so White”: Part 2 The “Diversity Initiative” Deception- By Myrton Running Wolf


The Hollywood Reporter is heralding a Post-#OscarsSoWhite Diversity “Casting Blitz.” Umm … yeah, no … been there, done that, got the token(ism).

Hiring blitzes and diversity initiatives are distractions, standard operating procedure, intended to smooth over the entertainment industry’s discrimination controversy; to make it all go away like yesterday’s trending topic.

In the 1990s, a “Native American Renaissance” was proclaimed with “Dances with Wolves,” “Thunderheart,” and two “Gerominos” (movie & tv show). Then came “Walker Texas Ranger” and the stage musical “Black Elk Speaks.” It all felt so good, and it culminated with Sundance’s “Smoke Signals” – an ironically apropos title that summarizes Hollywood’s sleight-of-hand diversion. Declaring a new “Native Renaissance” every few years then became a popular, if not broken-record, empty boast.

The result of this hype? Well, looking at recent studies by UCLA and USC – a current system-wide eradication of American Indian presence.

Also in the 1990s, threats of an NAACP boycott forced the studios to launch “Diversity Initiatives” to pacify minority outcry. These sham initiatives were never intended to increase racial minority inclusion. They were compromises to preserve cash flows. Twenty years later, nothing has improved. Hollywood retains its power through segregated work environments and, although minorities buy more media content, executives scrap projects that do not align with their racial bias. The studios reject better, more inclusive, business models and only greenlight stories that elevate themselves and their company values above all others. In studio boardrooms, minority employees either learn to keep quiet and conform to these values, or else face oblivion.

For Native Americans, the Diversity Initiatives disguised the same systemic oppression that exiled them to the fringes of society. “Native Programs” – at companies like the Joseph Papp Public Theater, the Public Broadcasting Service, and the Sundance Film Festival – all claimed to benefit Indians. What they really did, however, was cast indigenous people as tragic victims. These insincere programs reduced and segregated Natives away from Main Street luxury venues and VIP Hollywood players. All have failed to create a sustained indigenous presence.

As resources dry up and competition increases, American Indian film/tv producers are forced to prove their love for studio prejudice by embracing political agendas that view them as inferior. They must pander to Diversity Initiative stereotypes, crawling on their knees for financial support, theatrical distribution, and corporate marketing. Natives stroke Hollywood hoping that the entertainment industry’s altruistic love will spurt forth uncontrollably. But, ignoring their failed track records, the Diversity Initiatives continue to dictate which worn-out ideas of Native American identity will move forward. Shucking-and-jiving for this empty bleeding-heart support, American Indians learn to suppress themselves.

Tribes refrain from criticizing the entertainment industry swayed by sentiments like, “Don’t you ‘Indians’ have more important things to worry about!?” Amateur Native actors, duped into believing they are on the verge of super-stardom, eagerly “Play Indian” for the cameras. In the hiring frenzy, “Indian Consultants” peddle themselves as cultural experts to reassure studio executives that their pan-Indian stereotypes are accurate and authentic. The consultants do the producers’ dirty work of identifying obedient Indians and silencing protesters.

… and somewhere some news organization heralds the birth of a new “Native Renaissance” … sigh.

NEXT UP: A New Hope – employment protections for federally recognized tribes and their members.

Dr. Myrton Running Wolf
Stanford University ’15

Last Real Indians