By Jesse Hamlin
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.
"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.
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."