September 13, 2011

Murdering Indian in Ringer

Ringer, a new TV show starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, debuted Tuesday. The basic premise is that Gellar's character Bridget is fleeing from a Native mobster played by Zahn McClarnon. Here's how it unfolds in the pilot:

The show opens with closeups on two stone-faced statues of Indians. They're high atop a building, looking over Manhattan at night.

One face gets repeated twice more over the course of the show. It has a severe scowl like the famous Geronimo photo. The mouth is so downturned that it almost looks scary.

Someone said these are supposed to be an homage to Gellar's association with gargoyles as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Maybe so, but why Indians rather than gargoyles?

Bridget is hiding at the Double Nickel Motel before she flees. The motel's logo consists of two chiefs' heads in circles facing each other. The Indian on the buffalo nickel wasn't wearing a headdress, but never mind.

These two references aren't much to go on, but what do they suggest? The common theme seems to be stereotypical savage Indians. They suggest Ringer won't be sensitive to Native stereotypes--an assumption borne out by what comes next.

"Bodaway Macawi"

We learn the bad Indian's name is the Dickensian "Bodaway Macawi." Here's where this name apparently comes from:

Bodaway/Gap ChapterThe Navajo name for Bodaway/Gap is "Tsin' naah baas Hwabiteen" which means Inclined Trail for Wagons. Our Chapter is located on the western edge of the Navajo Nation which also includes several names: Ba'adoweih, Hwabiteen and Gap. It is said that Bodaway is a Bayoodzin (Puite) word.I presume "Puite" is a misspelling of "Piute," which is a variation of "Paiute."

Meaning of "Bodaway"In Native American, the name Bodaway means Fire maker.Look up: MacawiMacawi is a Native American boy name. The meaning of the name is 'Generous, Motherly.' Maddock, Macawi from Dakota Indian.MacawiThe meaning of the name Macawi is Female Coyote

The origin of the name Macawi is Native American

Notes: Sioux tribe.
There's no such language as "Native American," of course.

So we have two names with three or four definitions, none of which go together. And neither name is one I've ever heard used by a Native. It's kind of like "Takashi Rosenbloom" or "Sven M'Buto": theoretically possible but extremely unlikely.

We should be glad they didn't name him Bobby Soaring Hawk or Tommy Running Wolf. But they could've named him Fred Jones or Sam Martinez. Ringer gets no points for a "Native American" name that doesn't make much sense.

Meet the mobster

A TV report notes the previous "trial of Win River crime boss Bodaway Macawi." He was accused of murder, but acquitted. This is accompanied by a squinty-eyed photo of McClarnon that makes him look like a thug or brute.

Another report provides an update. Macawai was "indicted for the dismemberment killing of Shaylene Briggs, a dancer in his Rock Springs strip club."

After Bridget flees, she hears what happens to the "dismemberment" trial she was supposed to testify in. It was declared a mistrial and Macawi was set free. A newspaper photo shows him with his arms raised triumphantly.

Someone adds: "He's ruthless. He killed his own brother."

Finally, we see the only live shot of Macawi. From the passenger side of a vehicle, he glares steely-eyed at Bridget's friend.

What do we have here? For starters, "Win River" is the name of a casino in Northern California, but there's no Win River tribe. The casino is run by a 230-member rancheria made up of Pit River, Yana, and Wintu tribes. They aren't Paiute, Navajo, Dakota, or Sioux.

So the name is made up, but that's par for the course, and not a big deal.

The real problem is Macawi himself. He's a crime boss. He owns a strip club. He's murdered two people and perhaps several more. He's so evil that he dismembered one victim. In fact, he's so evil that he killed his own brother. There's no word on whether he scalped, tortured, or ate anybody, but these are definite possibilities.

In short, he's your classic murdering Indian--a modern-day Injun Joe. He's about as horrific as a character can get in a few sentences. Like so many fictional Indians, he's a monstrous killing machine. A soulless devil.


There's nothing wrong with having a Native villain. It's the way you do it that's right or wrong. Ringer has done it the wrong way: making Macawi a one-dimensional savage Indian.

Here are some questions and alternatives:

1) Why does Macawi have to be a crime boss or own a strip club? Lawyers and doctors kill people too. Say he was the ruthless CEO of an engineering company and killed his rival over a government contract. Or he was a ruthless politician who killed his rival for the Win River chairman position. There are many possibilities that don't involve typical mob activities.

2) If he's a crime boss, why does he have to do his own killing? Say he ordered the assassination of someone. Say he's guilty of "a pattern of racketeering activity that included robberies at gun point; attempted murders; distribution of cocaine, heroin and crack cocaine; obstruction of justice and witness intimidation," which one criminal was charged with. He doesn't have to kill people with his bare hands to be a terrible person.

3) Mention good Indians to balance the bad Indian. For instance, Macawi dismembered a Win River police officer who was investigating his strip club. Or Macawi killed his brother, a Win River politician who was running for state senator.

You see my point here. It's easy to paint a complex picture of modern Indian life with a few well-chosen words. Ringer hasn't done that. All it tells us is that Indians are criminals, thugs, and lowlifes--like the ones in the SCALPED comic book. They're savages just like the scowling statues and the primitive Plains chiefs on the motel logo.

Once again, network TV has given us a false and stereotypical impression of Indians. Every other race is represented by a range of people, both good and bad. But the Indian is pure evil...again.

For more on the subject, see Reviews of Ringer and TV Shows Featuring Indians.


Anonymous said...

I don't agree whatsoever. A> being a good chunk Native American, and B> Growing up in Rock Springs, I had no problem with the depiction thus far.

The signs at the hotel, while (to my knowledge) not ACTUAL signs, do depict tacky hotel signs in that particular area. It would not surprise me at all to see something like that (or something equally or moreso inaccurate) on businesses in the area.

If you want to get technical, the only problem I had was the focus on Native Americans in Rock Springs at all. Native Americans didn't really settle in that area historically, as local lore has it that the land was cursed. (Which about 30 years ago, Rock Springs was a very rough place, and prior to that was the location of the Chinese Massacre, so maybe they were right).

I believe that if you actively look for prejudice, you will find it (whether it was there intentionally or not). Seek and ye shall find (even if there is nothing really there). As mixed race, I could look at SMG's dual characters, and shout out that oh! One is an addict from Rock Springs (trailer trash) and the other one is a snooty high rolling snob with no morals.... two extremes. KNOWING that not all white people are either trailer trash or elitist immoral cows, I had no issue with any of the depictions in this series.

Perhaps instead of looking for perceived prejudices (furthering another stereotype many minorities face.... the victimized whiner), one can just be, and enjoy the show (and life). Just a suggestion.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure any Sioux word for a canid is some variant of shunka, in this case shunkmanitu.

I mean, I don't mind Indians being gangsters...OCCASIONALLY. But of course, Indians can be magical or drug addicts or pissed-off veterans or any number of other stereotypes...OCCASIONALLY. But white people tend to believe all these tropes, no matter how stupid.

dmarks said...

"...But white people tend to believe all these tropes, no matter how stupid...."

Which itself might be a racist generalization on your part. Do you have any evidence that Latinos and Blacks are immune to these tropes?

Last time I knew, nonwhites bought into the stereotypes also, and Black and Latino fans of the "Cleveland Indians" and the Washington football team are no less likely to proudly wear the team logos than whites are.

Anonymous said...

Hell, even some Indians aren't immune. But only white people have, completely seriously, asked me if I could transform into an animal.

And I know white people who, after Joe Dirt came out, decided all Indians sold fireworks. Yep, one minor character in one stupid movie.

Anonymous said...

Hell, even some Indians aren't immune. But only white people have, completely seriously, asked me if I could transform into an animal.

And I know white people who, after Joe Dirt came out, decided all Indians sold fireworks. Yep, one minor character in one stupid movie.