June 13, 2012

Native Appropriations reviews Crooked Arrows

Adrienne Keene reviews the Native lacrosse movie in Crooked Arrows: The good, the bad, and the flute music

The good
  • I loved that they cast tons of local Haudenosuanee and other East Coast Natives as major roles (like all the lacrosse players), and all the extras were also local, so that was fun. I kept seeing people I knew--oh hey! There's Shiala! That's Charlotte! Look, that's Jonathan drumming!

  • The Natives weren't painted as backwards-stuck-in-the-past. This one seems like a "duh" kinda thing, but you'd be surprised. The students were shown using smart phones, ipods, laptops, etc., posting to twitter, Gil's character is shown posting to the Haudenosaunee Facebook page, which comes into play later. Even the elders made pop-culture references. Which is how I know the Native community (we use social media at higher rates than most other ethnic groups!), but most people think of us living in tipis without wifi.

  • This wasn't something I really noticed, since I'm not a LAX player, but apparently the action and all of the details around the sport itself were spot-on, and they included a lot of insider references for true fans of the sport. Nice.

  • I liked the playful Indian humor throughout--like the whole "vagina dodge" joke (Superman mis-translates the lacrosse term "v-cut" into the tribal language).

  • Overall the representations of Native "culture" (I should mention that the team is from the fictional "Sinoquat" Nation, which is supposed to be part of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy) were done well, or as well as could be expected in a campy, cheesy sports movie. It was abundantly clear that the directors/producers tried very, very hard to show this was a Native film (more on that in a bit), while still appeasing majority non-Native audiences. They definitely showed a level of care and awareness that I haven't seen in a movie about Natives in a loooong time. Goes to show all the Native involvement in the film paid off.
  • The bad
  • The opening credits--I burst out laughing and grabbed Mikaela's arm. Picture flute music, and Gil Birmingham's deep Indian voice saying "A long time ago....a ball game was created...to please the creator." while a breech-clout-warpaint-wearing-old-timey-Indian runs through the forest, accompanied by, as pointed out by the 1491s, Papyrus font. Admittedly, it made me reeeeal worried for the rest of the movie. It was just so over the top.

  • and Oh Em Gee the flute music. Every 10 seconds the flute music. Anytime a Native character had a revelation or did something "Native," cue the flute music. (The 1491s had a similar reaction). So. much. flute. music. and correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't regional music be the rattle-and-drum variety, rather than flute music?

  • Also, the horribly CGI-ed eagles. They were supposed to represent Superman's (non-Native) mom watching over them, or something? But they appeared about as often as the flute music. Flying over the lacrosse field, sittin' on a pole, as scene transitions, eagle, eagle, eagle. We get it. Eagles are important.

  • The Casino. The point of the casino (I think) was to show how Superman had "lost his way," so it was supposed to be over-the-top and offensive. And to most Natives, I think it was. The slot machines played the Calvary Charge, the waitresses were dressed in Pocahottie outfits and dancing on the bar, they called Superman "chief," and he wore a feather headband and carried a suction-cup bow and arrow set while giving out "wish feathers" for luck. It was bad, intentionally. But the problem is, I don't think most non-Natives would realize that was "wrong"--because that type of imagery is so normalized in our society, from kids parties to halloween, they probably didn't give it a second thought. So I wonder if it did more harm than good?

  • The sweat lodge/spirit animals scene. This is the scene that irked me the most, and the movie could have been completely successful without it. The team goes in a "traditional" sweat lodge, and when they emerge, are asked what "vision" they saw. They each name an animal and are given that symbol on a necklace as their "spirit animal." So, from my limited knowledge and research through internet friends, sweat lodges as they were presented aren't a tradish Iroquois thing, nor are "spirit animals" (though someone said the animals were representative of the Iroquois clan systems?)--and it just felt really stereotypical and unnecessary to me.
  • The bottom lineCute, cheesy, campy sports movie, predictable plot line and characters, but cool to see so many Natives on screen, cool that at the minimum the audience will walk away realizing lacrosse is actually a Native sport, and cool that so much of the East Coast Native community was able to get involved. Some problematic stuff, but overall, not horrible. I enjoyed myself, and might watch it again if it ever comes out on Netflix.Comment:  Adrienne sounds more tolerant of the horrible stereotypes than I'd be. She wondered if the casino scenes did more harm than good. I wonder if the whole movie did more harm than good.

    The flute music, eagles, sweat lodge, spirit animals, and casino are all such hoary clichés. Audiences may have left the movie understanding that Indians aren't primitive people of the past...but did they learn Indians have hundreds of different cultures and religions? Not just one clichéd culture and religion that resemble a romanticized Plains painting?

    Indeed, could they tell us anything accurate about a Haudenosaunee tribe other than "they invented lacrosse"? Maybe, but it doesn't sound like it.

    At this point, we've seen a number of movies and TV series that present modern Native life with reasonable authenticity. Smoke Signals, Pow Wow Highway, Thunderheart, Skins, Christmas in the Clouds, Grand Avenue, Dreamkeeper, Imprint, Four Sheets to the Wind, and so forth. If a movie isn't in the same ballpark as these movies, I'm not willing to give it that much credit. Getting things half right is only half the battle.

    For more on Crooked Arrows, see Clichee´s Abound in Crooked Arrows and Onondagas Support Crooked Arrows.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    Casinos are supposed to be iconic of how Indians are assimilating. As if Indians never had gambling before. In general, this trope needs to die.

    "Spirit animals" probably come from Freud's Totem and Taboo. He was trying to explain food taboos as a "symbolic father", a sort of guilt for a patricidal past. Again, psychoanalysis is basically just guessing. And yeah, that (and a lot of things) are a mix of things mostly derived from farther west.

    LOL @ Papyrus font. Tacky in any culture.