February 21, 2009

Tribes should make movies

In Natives on Non-Native Casting, someone named Jet mentioned the idea of tribes making movies:The tribes I have contacted don't want the risk of the film game (understandably) but in this game it's pay to play.Here I agree with you, Jet. Low-budget movies made by experienced Native producer/directors like you--whoever you are--would be a good investment for gaming tribes.

If I were a studio, I'd forget gambling on box-office blockbusters. I'd finance a bunch of independent-style movies for $500,000 or $1,000,000. If they earned a "measly" $2,000,000, I'd have doubled or quadrupled my investment. If they made as much as Fireproof or My Big Fat Greek Wedding, so much the better.

Advice for gaming tribes

This should be part of the long-term thinking of gaming tribes, if you ask me. Instead, they've put billions of dollars into one basket--casinos--that are now losing money. Some tribes have diversified their business portfolios, but many haven't.

It's possible tribes might be worried about the political fallout. "We gave you gaming to help you, and now you're spending the money on movies?" But there are ways around this. For instance, dedicate any profits from filmmaking to charities such as NARF or the American Indian College Fund.

Gaming tribes have backed a couple of Native films before, but they could do much more. As I've said before, this would be smart of them. It would be a great way to get their message into the popular culture and remind people of their continuing existence. And it would help them diversify out of the gaming industry, which may be reaching a tipping point.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.


Anonymous said...

I am glad you see the possibilities in tribal financing. Unfortunately many of the tax incentives used to entice film investment (100% tax write-off the first year) don't apply to tribes because they don't fall under the same federal tax rules, BUT if a producer has a solid business distribution/plan and has a story that actually would cross-over to a mainstream audience, but still hold true to Native culture, the returns could be there.
Where is our North American "Whale Rider?."
Ready and waiting.
Keep up the spirit, Rob

kalisetsi said...


Thank you so much for addressing this! Every time you go off on casting issues, particularly this latest Twilight/werewolf whatever it is....I just keep feeling like you aren't seeing the real problem. The issue (as I see it) is getting more funding for NDN-made movies. Native written, produced, starring, etc. We need our own stories told from our own perspectives. And we need them properly distributed and promoted. What we DON'T need is to spend so much energy worrying about getting "real Indians" into these Hollywood films, when the stories they are telling aren't authentically Native in the first place.

I don't think getting Adam Beach cast in a lead werewolf role is a meaningful goal. Hollywood is Hollywood; you can't parade a couple "real Indians" out in front of a movie and then call it an "authentic Indian movie". "Dances With Wolves," case in point. I know there is an exposure issue, as well as equal opportunity, but at the end of the day, if you have integrity as a "Native" actor, then you would probably be more invested in creating the kind of movies that don't originate out of Hollywood. That being said, any actor of any background, Native included, I think has a right to pursue and be considered for any role of any background, that is the nature of acting. And whoever is making the movie also has a right to make their movie in their own vision; however craptastic it may be.

The problem is the history of Hollywood's relationship with Native peoples and their representations of Native people. But that history can't be changed (or forgotten). That's a product of non-Indians producing something that involves Indians, and also a reflection of dominant-society views of Native peoples. But its still their product and their right to produce it (you mentioned earlier that even hate speech is protected).

As distasteful and irrelevant as I find many Hollywood movies, particularly those involving allegedly "Native" characters or plots, I just think the solution is not to support those films and to make it easier for Native voices to be heard more clearly through their OWN film projects. Let Warner Brothers and all these other guys make whatever they want. It's their money, and their movies. I'd rather spend my energy supporting more funding for Native film projects than to worry about who is getting cast for some Hollywood movie and whether or not they are "Indian" enough for a role that isn't really "Indian" in the first place, and in a movie that most certainly is not.

Keep writing.

Rob said...

Re "I don't think getting Adam Beach cast in a lead werewolf role is a meaningful goal": Good, because that isn't my goal. I think I made it clear in Adam Beach as Tonto?! that I'm not an advocate for Beach and don't want to see him play a Twilight werewolf. Read it and confirm what my position is for yourself.

Native movie-casting issues come up often in the news. Native movie-financing issues don't. I generally cover what's in the news and try to avoid writing free-form rants (believe it or not).

If you think I have some sort of bias in my coverage...well, I don't. The only "bias" is toward covering the daily news faithfully. If people were writing 10 times as many financing as casting articles, rather than the other way around, my coverage would reflect that.

The Twilight franchise is hugely popular and is getting a huge amount of coverage. Movies such as Frozen River and The Only Good Indian aren't--although I've given them a fair amount of exposure. Again, if there were 10 times as many Frozen River items as Twilight items, my coverage would reflect that.

If you think I haven't covered some aspect of the movie business--or some other aspect of Natives in pop culture--e-mail me a suggested topic. Better yet, write a short essay (up to 600 words) on the topic yourself. If I like it, I'll post it and credit you as a guest contributor.

Rob said...

Re "any actor of any background, Native included, I think has a right to pursue and be considered for any role of any background": True, they have the same rights as everyone in a free-market society. But producers who want their Native movies to look authentic have a right to refuse these actors and hire Native actors instead. In fact, they have a responsibility to do so.

For more thoughts on your comment, Kalisetsi, see Casting Decisions Aren't Important?

kalisetsi said...


Apologies for the delayed response to this, it was not deliberate. Yes, I'd read the "Adam Beach as Tonto?" post (and enjoyed it). In this case, I didn't mean Adam Beach in particular, but rather any big-name NDN known in Hollywood, so interchangeable I guess with Wes Studi and Graham Greene and whoever else Hollywood ever gives a lead role to. Its not a long list.

In my opinion, in the weird distorted world that is Hollywood, its accepted that people are cast based on phenotype rather than pedigree. The whole industry is shallow and based on what you look like. I'm not personally too bothered if Native cuzins from Mexico and El Salvador are hired alongside Navajos for a movie, if they show up and if they look reasonably passable. Frankly, it's no big sweat off my back. (Clearly not all NDNS look alike, Mohawk COMPLETELY different from Yavapai, but there are also many people who could pass for other backgrounds than what they are). What I would find more problematic (because of job discrimination/EOE) is if Native actors are deliberately eliminated from consideration based on their being Native, and (mildly less so) if deliberately NO attempt was made to recruit Native cast members at all. (In fairness, if I recall correctly, this was one part of your Twilight gripe).

I'm just glad you've gotten over the Twilight crap. It's about vampires and werewolves or something like that, correct? I'm not fighting the good fight for Natives to be included in a fantasy movie with fairies and other fantastical creatures. Probably do more damage than good for NDNs to be associated with that.

Re: your comment "But producers who want their Native movies to look authentic have a right to refuse these actors and hire Native actors instead. In fact, they have a responsibility to do so." I guess we may agree to disagree by virtue of semantics here.....what I'm saying is that a "Hollywood movie" in the traditional sense (i.e. written, produced, directed by non-NDNs) is pretty much by definition NOT a "Native movie", regardless of whether or not its about Indians or features "Indians" in it. Casting "real Native Americans" in it doesn't do anything to solve that, it would be like putting a band-aid on a severed leg, and does nothing to change the inherent spirit of the film. I think that "Native movies" by definition must include substantial (if not exclusive) creative participation from NDNs in the form of writers, directors, and/or producers. If that's the case, the casting would not be an issue because every aspect of the film would be guided in the right direction.

I'm going to reply to "Casting Decisions Aren't Important?" now. I want to thank you for the invitation to submit my ideas and/or short essay to you; perhaps I will take you up on that. On another note, I saw you had picked up on the Native American Film and Video Festival in NYC this week. I'm looking forward to attending a number of films there this week, as well as a panel discussion featuring Chris Eyre, Sterlin Harjo, Jason Silverman, Pavel Rodriguez, and Georgina Lightning, all Native filmmakers. Should be interesting; I'll keep you posted.

Be well...

Rob said...

As I said, what I find in the media each day determines a lot of what I post. Two or three Twilight sequels are coming up, so I still plan to post items on that "crap." I figure the Twilight postings will continue until 2011 or thereabouts.

If you want to write more about Natives and tribes making their own movies, please do. You could submit essays to Indian Country Today and Indianz.com as well. I want to see more Native viewpoints even if I don't always agree with them. ;-)