February 09, 2010

WGA panel on Native representation

‘American Indian 101’ encouraged representation

By Eva Thomas The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Diversity Committee and Writers Guild of America, West American Indian Writers Committee co-presented the “American Indian 101” Panel Discussion Nov. 9, 2009 at the Television Academy’s Conference Centre in North Hollywood.

This joint event featured a panel discussion exploring contemporary American Indian life, opportunities and challenges for American Indian creative professionals in the entertainment industry, as well as current and future media representations.

Panelists included Nancy Miller, creator/showrunner, “Saving Grace”; Gregory Cruz, “Saving Grace’s” Bobby Stillwater, who portrays one of the few American Indian characters featured on a primetime TV show; Jason Gavin (Blackfeet), currently a staff writer on “Royal Pains” and formerly on the critically acclaimed series, “Friday Night Lights,” and a member of the WGAW AIWC; Angela Riley (Potawatomi), visiting professor of law at UCLA School of Law and newly appointed acting associate director of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center.

The evening was moderated by WGAW AIWC member Brian Wescott (Athabascan), co-writer (with Leslie Clark) of the documentary miniseries “American Century.” The audience included industry folks and Native writers, actors, producers and directors. “American Indian 101” was an attempt to encourage better representation of American Indians in film and television.

“The first thing we would like you to know is that American Indians are extremely diverse,” Wescott said. “There are over 500 American Indian tribes. Tonight, we invite you to open the door and see what kind of Native stories you can tell and what kind of Native talent you can use in your projects.”
Some comments posted on this article:Sounds One Sided wrote ...

Hollywood's audience refuses to let go off it's "injun" image. They find it better to "know" us more than we know ourselves. The archetype is $$$$ to their eyes, any change is blasphemy. Or, in their words: "not profitable." Panel Discussion? Hollywood's reps RESPONSES are BLARINGLY ABSENT!

Rob Schmidt wrote ...

Yes, it would be interesting to see a panel of studio execs explain why they don't use Native characters and actors.
Comment:  I could've gone to this meeting, but it's such a pain. Thirty to 45 minutes getting ready, an hour driving and parking, an hour-long meeting, and a 45-minute drive home. It's a good 3.5-4 hours for a meeting that's less than 15 miles away.

Anyway, I'm not sure anyone said anything we haven't heard before. It's kind of like Charlie Brown's trying to kick the football Lucy's holding. Indians do everything right but get screwed by the system.

I did like this note:WGAW AIWC member FastHorse also offered assistance. “The committee can help guide you if you need assistance in creating Native characters and storylines. We want to help you create more accurate portrayals of American Indians in film and television. That is one of the reasons the AIWC was created.”I wonder if that applies to comic books and video games too? A one-stop source for answering authenticity questions would be good.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies and Diversity Lacking in Television.

Below:  Friday the funny-looking "Caribbean Indian" (Tongayi Chirisa on NBC's Crusoe).


Seadhlinn said...

I'm not surprised at all. Just the other day, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, who is student-teaching, and we were complaining about representations of PoCs, especially Native Americans, in kid's books. Which is when a third person chimed in and said it "wouldn't be fun if we couldn't fictionalize other cultures". The general response I got from (white) people when I mentioned this conversation was that it was OK to represent cultures inaccurately, because it "doesn't hurt anyone". Say people who have never been accused of not being their race because they fail to embody some totally fictional stereotype.

dmarks said...

I cringe at a version of "colored people" used in the comment, even if abbreviated.

Addressing the issue, surely there's a way to do this where it really doesn't hurt anyone. And the issue really isn't one of race. Looking at two very different efforts, "Peace Party" and "Asterix" fictionalize cultures, but I can't find that either one hurts anyone.