October 29, 2010

Behind the Door of a Secret Girl at AIFF

'Secret Girl' deals with cutting, drugs

By Jesse HamlinJanessa Starkey was 14 when she began writing the film "Behind the Door of a Secret Girl," a grim drama about a depressed American Indian teenager who lives on a reservation with her meth-addicted mother and an abusive cartel-connected drug dealer. The girl, Sammy, is a cutter, wounding her wrists with a knife in order to feel alive.

A few weeks ago, Starkey, 19, a member of the United Auburn Indian Community who co-wrote and directed the film with the tribe's media director, Jack Kohler, attended a screening of "Behind the Door of a Secret Girl" at the Eugene International Film Festival. Someone in the audience asked if the film was autobiographical.

"I said yes, I did cut myself," says Starkey, who'd never spoken openly before about her self-mutilation. "I wanted to find a better way of dealing with my depression, so instead of hurting myself, I decided to write this film."

Shot at the Auburn Rancheria and other land in the Sierra foothills owned by the United Auburn Indian Community, "Behind the Door of a Secret Girl" screens Nov. 8 at the Embarcadero Center Cinema as part of the 35th annual American Indian Film Festival.
As I've done many times, the film connects stereotypical taunting and bullying with real harm. In this case, pressure that impels a girl to take meth and cut herself over her anguish:The story draws on Starkey's awareness of the methamphetamine epidemic afflicting many Indian communities. In the film, Sammy's meth-addicted mother (Holly Nugent) falls prey to a violent white drug dealer (JD Ayers) who moves into their trailer and sets up a meth lab. He's shielded from the local cops and FBI, who can't go onto a reservation without tribal permission.

"Meth is a huge problem on reservations. Meth addiction is replacing alcohol addiction," says Kohler, who showed Starkey news stories about Mexican drug cartels infiltrating reservations in Arizona, Colorado and Montana. They wove the cartel connection into the script "to give more depth and drama to the film."

Sammy, played by Kohler's daughter, Carly, a Stanford psychology major who began acting at age 4, gets rough treatment at home and at school, where a girl named Brittany tells her: "Why don't you go back to your trailer on the reservation, where you can rub two pieces of wood together and make crack over a fire?"

"I know native girls who were taunted like that," says Starkey, who was picked on in public school "partly because I was Indian, and because I was always awkward." She found herself after switching to the tribal school.
Comment:  How many times do I have to say this, people? Stereotyping isn't a harmless joke, it's a form of psychological bullying. The message is: "We're better than you. Get lost, you loser."

Cutting isn't a subject I'm eager to learn about, or see on the screen. But the film is getting recognition, so it may be a good one.

For more on the harm of stereotypes, see Minorities Suffer Microaggression and Native Children Bullied by Stereotypes. For more on the movie, see AIFI's 2010 Nominees and The Best Indian Movies.

Below:  "Writer-filmmaker Janessa Starkey (right) directs Holly Nugent as a meth-addicted mom in Behind the Door of a Secret Girl."


Anonymous said...

our people are being victimized and exploited by other cultures...we are organizing an world forum to directly address this and other serious issues affecting our territories across turtle island....could i use this excerpt to drawn more attention to our cause..jaysonfleury

Rob said...

It's not my article. I just quoted it. You can use it the same as I did: for educational purposes.

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:


Film explores meth-ravaged tribes

American Indian teen inspired by personal sorrows

Methamphetamine has ravaged reservations across America, including California rancherias where monthly gaming checks are sometimes blown on the corrosive white powder.

Janessa Starkey, a teenager from Placer County's United Auburn Indian Community, has made a film about it, "Behind The Door of a Secret Girl." The film, which was used by Harvard University, will be screened Monday at the 35th annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco.