March 31, 2015

"You damn redskin!"

'You Damn Redskin!' Surviving a Racist Attack

By Dennis G. ChappabittyDuring the usual jabbering I’d said I was a Comanche Indian headed back to my final year of college. As we drove, the driver said they’d been drinking beer and needed to pull over. We pulled off near an old deserted town called Silver City, north of Drumright, Oklahoma. After driving far down the road, I asked, “Why not stop here and pee?” They said, “No, we’re going further down.”

My Indian gut told me something was not right. The car stopped and the young men all got out while I stayed in the middle of the back seat. After they took care of their business, one of them said, “Hey, why don’t you get out?” I said, “No, I don’t have to.” Then one of them said in a loud, angry tone, “You will get out, now!” With no choice, I slowly got out of the car while they all stood on the right side of the road all looking at me with squinting hateful eyes and clinched fists.

I sensed movement to the right and behind me. I quickly turned and ducked as one of them swung a bottle of beer toward the back of my skull. When I ducked, he hit the car door and the bottle shattered. The battle for my survival was on.

I took several punches to my body as they all closed in shouting “You damn redskin, we’re going to kill you!” I fought back with full force and we all fell down in the roadside ditch full of tall weeds. While down, the kicking and punching continued over and over as I moved away from the car and farther down the ditch.
Wichita North Redskins

"Remarks by Clem Ironwing, Sioux, during a public Mascot/Identity Committee hearing."

By Matthew Richter
The following remarks were made by Clem Ironwing, Sioux, November 11, 1996, during a public hearing called by the Mascot/Identity Committee. Denied a seat on the Committee, Mr. Ironwing, an elder, was given three minutes standing alone on the school stage in front of three television stations, local radio stations and the Wichita Eagle newspaper in front of an audience of 250 to explain why it is not right for the school to continue using this mascot. His remarks follow:

"The word Redskin was taught to me at a very young age, and this is the meaning it has for me.

"I am a Native American. I grew up on an Indian reservation. As a child, the United States Government and the Catholic Church came into our homes, took us away from our families, and forced us into Catholic boarding schools. There was no choice to be had in this matter, you had to go. The Catholic Church with the blessings of the United States Government took it upon themselves to determine that we were savages, and needed to be transformed to fit into their society.

"When my hair was cut short by the priests, I was called a 'redskin' and a savage. When I spoke my native tongue, I was beaten and called 'redskin.' When I tried to follow the spiritual path of my people, I was again beaten and called a 'redskin.' I was told by them to turn my back on the ways of my people, or I would forever be nothing but a dirty 'redskin.'

"The only way 'redskin' was ever used towards my people and myself was in a derogatory manner. It was never, ever, used in a show of respect or kindness. It was only used to let you know that you were dirty and no good, and to this day still is."

March 30, 2015

Pioneer Girl impugns Little House

The true story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her "little house on the prairie":

Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder review–gritty memoir dispels Little House myths

Full of theft, alcoholism and violence, the novelist’s unvarnished account of her childhood is a darker, more vicious affair

By Sarah Churchwell
For most of Laura’s childhood, she lived in close proximity to drunks, rapists, horse thieves, adulterers and more than one murderer, including perhaps a brush with a notorious family of serial killers.

Nor was the Ingalls family’s progress a simple westward expansion, as the novels more or less report it: Wilder deliberately simplified their back-and-forth journeys across the midwest in order to create the impression of westward progress, an image in keeping with her theme of nation-building. In fact, the Ingallses retreated east more than once, while the self-styled “pioneers” were land-grabbing as fast as they could: manifest destiny was a giant get-rich-quick scheme. The family emerges as far more opportunistic, even on occasion unscrupulous, than the whitewashed novels would have us believe. Charles Ingalls knew that he was in Indian Territory illegally, while his wife’s brother Tom went to the Badlands on an ill-fated and illegal search for gold. The family snuck away from debts on at least one occasion, making their escape in the middle of the night. The fundamental drama in the novels comes not from conflicts within the family, but with the external forces of government, Indians and nature. Of the three, the last is the one we are most apt to sympathise with today; the attitude of the settlers to the Indians makes for uncomfortable reading (“Treaties or no treaties, the land belongs to folks that’ll farm it. That’s only common sense and justice,” one neighbour declares). It is an attitude that the Ingallses and their relatives clearly shared; many of their actions were in flagrant violation of treaties.

The most extensive difference between the two accounts is Wilder’s decision to excise an entire interlude in Iowa from the novels. The family’s retreat to the east undermined her triumphalist tale of westward progress, but their time in Iowa also featured some of the family’s grimmest experiences. They lived in a hotel adjacent to a saloon, which is hard to imagine the fictional Ma Ingalls permitting; the decision was a mark of their “financial desperation,” as the editor of Pioneer Girl notes. There were bullet holes in a wall, made by a drunken man shooting at his wife; another dragged his wife around by her long hair, carrying a lamp that was pouring kerosene; Charles Ingalls intervened to keep them all from being burned to death.
Comment:  For more on Little House on the Prairie, see Little House = Libertarian Fable and Little House Celebrates Land Theft.

March 29, 2015

California's 4th-grade mission mythology

Lying to Children About the California Missions and the Indians

By Deborah A. MirandaAll my life, I have heard only one story about California Indians: godless, dirty, stupid, primitive, ugly, passive, drunken, immoral, lazy, weak-willed people who might make good workers if properly trained and motivated. What kind of story is that to grow up with?

The story of the missionization of California.

In 1769, after missionizing much of Mexico, the Spaniards began to move up the west coast of North America in order to establish claims to rich resources and before other European nations could get a foothold. Together, the Franciscan priests and Spanish soldiers "built" a series of 21 missions along what is now coastal California. (California's Indigenous peoples, numbering more than 1 million at the time, did most of the actual labor.) These missions, some rehabilitated from melting adobe, others in near-original state, are now one of the state's biggest tourist attractions; in the little town of Carmel, Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is the biggest attraction. Elsewhere, so-called Mission décor drenches Southern California, from restaurants to homes, apartment buildings, animal shelters, grocery stores, and post offices. In many neighborhoods, a bastardized Mission style is actually required by cities or neighborhood associations. Along with this visual mythology of adobe and red clay roof tiles comes the cultural storytelling that drains the missions of their brutal and bloody pasts for popular consumption.

In California schools, students come up against the "Mission Unit" in 4th grade, reinforcing the same lies those children have been breathing in most of their lives. Part of California's history curriculum, the unit is entrenched in the educational system and impossible to avoid, a powerfully authoritative indoctrination in Mission Mythology to which 4th graders have little if any resistance. Intense pressure is put upon students (and their parents) to create a "Mission Project" that glorifies the era and glosses over both Spanish and Mexican exploitation of Indians, as well as enslavement of those same Indians during U.S. rule. In other words, the Mission Unit is all too often a lesson in imperialism, racism, and Manifest Destiny rather than actually educational or a jumping-off point for critical thinking or accurate history.

I can confirm that my California school had a "mission" unit. I was in 5th grade, but it was a joint social studies class with grades 3-5 (experimental school). We divided into teams and made some sort of cutout missions, but nothing as good as these.

What's up with constructing missions, anyway? What about the White House, the Alamo, or Sutter's Mill? Why is a mission the only historical building constructed by California students?

Someone could make the case that this veers too far into state-sponsored religion. I mean, you could read the Bible or reenact a Catholic ceremony and claim it was for learning about California's mission era. Constructing a mission isn't much different.

For more on California's missions, see Indoctrinating Students About Missions.

Below:  Happy-go-lucky Indians Preaching and Farming at Mission Dolores by Anton Refregier. Former Rincon Annex Post Office, San Francisco, California.

March 28, 2015

Ratings belie anti-diversity argument

Another response to the Deadline Hollywood article points out that diversity isn't just good morally. It's good financially, leading to better ratings and more revenue for broadcasters.

As Multicultural TV Shows Succeed, Some Wonder if Diversity has Gone Too Far

By Jeff YangHunt warns that like prior TV flirtations with diversity, this progress could be temporary. Yet the numbers—the only things that matter in Hollywood—show that this time, something different may be happening. Out of the scripted shows with all-white leads introduced this past season, just one—a reboot of “The Odd Couple”—seems guaranteed a renewal. Meanwhile, nearly every series centered on diverse characters looks like a solid return, for two reasons.

The first is that they’re expanding network audiences in ways that reflect the new demographic reality. Analyses provided by Nielsen show that the three most-watched non-event shows among 18-49 year old Asian Americans as of February were “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Fresh Off the Boat”—and it’s not even close, with Asian Americans being twice as likely to watch FOTB as any other scripted program. A full third of all 18-49 year old African Americans watch “Empire” each week, making it more popular than the Super Bowl in that demographic. And 17 of the top 25 shows among 18-49 year old Hispanics are on Univision—the Spanish-language network that regularly draws bigger audiences than Fox and NBC.

The second is that it’s these shows aren’t just catering to their communities. Asian Americans make up as much as 20% of FOTB’s audience—but the other 80% is non-Asian, and they’re what is keeping the series competitive against juggernauts like “The Voice” and “NCIS.”

Ultimately, points out UCLA’s Hunt, “we live in a diverse society, and people want to see stories that reflect that. We’re curious about other groups’ experiences. It shouldn’t come as a shock that white households don’t only want to see shows with just white people.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Where Are the Native TV Shows? and Deadline Hollywood on TV Casting.

March 27, 2015

Where are the Native TV shows?

Where are the mainstream TV shows about American Indians?

By Yohana DestaOn television screens, American Indian characters are virtually invisible.

Despite the recent TV diversity breakthrough (see: Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Jane the Virgin and the record-breaking Empire), native people as a whole are still largely left out of the picture on the small screen. They make cameos in subplots (e.g. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, House of Cards), but don't get the reins to their own series.

Where are the shows dedicated to this country's American Indians?

Though there have been some recent attempts (The Red Road from Sundance has been panned by critics), there has yet to be a popular, mainstream series starring American Indians as a whole in the U.S.

"We’re one of the few ethnic groups they don’t know what to do with," actor Michael Horse tells Mashable. "America sees us as an antiquated culture."
Non-Native Travis Holt Hamilton is trying to do a sitcom based on his movie More Than Frybread:For now, Hamilton still has to work independently, because studios are hesitant about Native stories. He remembers taking a recent film workshop where an instructor bluntly told him why his script wouldn't work.

"As soon as I said Native, the instructor stopped me [and said] 'Not to be rude, but Hollywood’s not really interested in Native films,'" he recalls.

When it comes to TV, Hamilton says Canada far surpasses the U.S. The country has the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, or APTN, a channel devoted to its Aboriginal community. Aside from fictional TV shows, it also produces documentary and news shows.

A similar U.S. attempt is the First Nations Experience, or FNX, launched with PBS affiliate KVCR in 2012. The network is only available in a few states.

Another U.S. attempt is the Red Nation Television Channel, an online channel devoted to Native content, founded by actor and filmmaker Joanelle Romero. It launched in 2006 and now boasts 10 million viewers, according to the site's About page. When it first opened, the website crashed due to an overwhelming number of visitors.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Deadline Hollywood on TV Casting and TV Starts to Reflect America.

Below:  Jonathan Joss in Parks and Recreation.

March 26, 2015

Casting controversy in The Unplugging

A play in Toronto is causing the latest casting controversy:

The Unplugging tells an indigenous story, but the actresses are white

Author Yvette Nolan and director Nina Lee Aquino decided to find their ideal cast for Factory Theatre/Native Earth production, regardless of race.

By Richard Ouzounian
When Caucasian actress Allegra Fulton was offered the part of an aboriginal woman in the Factory Theatre/Native Earth production of The Unplugging, her negative reaction was immediate.

“I turned it down. I didn’t think it was right,” she said on a break from rehearsals for the play, which opens Wednesday. “It’s hard enough as an older white actress to get roles. For my friends who are Métis or First Nations, it’s practically impossible. Why should I take a part away from them?”

But a trio of influential voices kept trying to influence her: the director of both Factory Theatre and the production, Nina Lee Aquino, well known for her work in multiracial theatre; Ryan Cunningham, the artistic director of Native Earth; and the show’s author, Yvette Nolan, herself of mixed Algonquin and Irish heritage.

Fulton kept refusing. “I said ‘I can’t do this. Don’t ask me.’”

Then she remembered what playwright Tomson Highway had said to her years before when she was offered a major role as a Métis woman in a TV series and expressed similar qualms.

“Allegra,” said the flamboyant Cree theatre artist, “if you can’t play Métis, then I can’t play Oscar Wilde. Do it for me.”

So Fulton now finds herself in the show along with Diana Belshaw, also a white woman playing a role whose ethnicity isn’t clearly defined by the script, but whom director Aquino clearly labels as “indigenous.”

“Nina says we’re all indigenous on some level,” says Belshaw, who is also a professor of theatre performance at Humber College. “I’d have to agree with her there. We all have links to history, ancestry, culture in our past. For many of us it’s been broken.
But critics aren't necessarily buying it:

The Unplugging sparks debate by casting non-aboriginal actors in indigenous roles

Playwrights and actors divided on choice made by Toronto theatre company

By Kim Wheeler
“We talked about the casting, made a list which included not only the indigenous actors ‘of a certain age’ but actors from the larger multicultural community,” said Algonquin playwright Yvette Nolan, who made casting decisions along with director Nina Lee Aquino.

“There are not that many. For many reasons—attrition, retirement, fatigue. Many of the women on our list were already working in other shows or in movies or on much bigger projects."

Community backlash

When Columpa C. Bobb, an actor, writer, director and producer, heard about the casting decisions she created a long list of female indigenous actors on her Facebook page.

That started a discussion among the acting elite--including Tantoo Cardinal who was recently selected by ACTRA for the award of excellence.

“I don't care how talented you are, you will never convince me you are Indian. I have not seen a non-Indian actor catch nuance that needs to be there,” said Cardinal in a phone interview.
The problem isn't limited to one play:Playwright Ken Williams said his first mainstage production of Thunderstick—which went on to star Cree actor Lorne Cardinal and Anishinabe actor Craig Lauzon—had the same problem in 2002.

“We had the Isaac role cast but not one of the actors I wanted for Jacob were available. We ended up casting a non-native person for the role,” said Williams.

Drew Hayden Taylor's play, God & the Indian, will be the next Native Earth production. He's had over 70 productions of his work produced by several theatre companies.

Hayden said that on at least two occasions theatre companies have had to hire non-indigenous actors for his plays.

“I would rather have had a Native actress do the role, but as an artist, I would rather have a talented and experienced actress bring life to my characters than just somebody with a status card who's never acted,” said Taylor, who also saw The Unplugging.
Comment:  I don't think Native Voices at the Autry, here in Los Angeles, has ever experienced this problem. But it has a huge pool of Hollywood actors, including Natives, to draw on.

These articles don't quite address the core issue. Native Earth Performing Arts is supposedly a "professional Indigenous theatre company." Okay, then it should have developed a pool of talented Native actors in the Toronto area. In fact, Native Earth shouldn't exist unless it has a critical mass of Native actors, writers, directors, and so forth. What's the point of a Native theater company if you don't have enough Native people to put on Native plays?

I trust Native Earth has addressed and answered this question. Perhaps the article writers didn't have the time or space to go into it. But the question is central to the Unplugging controversy. Does Toronto have enough Native actors to put on Native plays or doesn't it? If it doesn't, what is Native Earth doing about it? If Native Earth is building an ensemble of Native actors but still can't find two of them for The Unplugging, it may be in the wrong business.

For more on Native theater, see Off the Rails at Native Voices and Stanford Cancels Bloody Jackson Play.

Below:  "Allegra Fulton and Diana Belshaw star in Yvette Nolan's play 'The Unplugging.' It runs in Toronto at Factory Theatre until April 5." (Akipari)

March 25, 2015

Deadline Hollywood on TV casting

An article on casting in TV is generating a lot of controversy:

Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings

By Nellie AndreevaThere was a noticeable shift toward minority castings last season, with more parts opening up to ethnic actors, a casting term used for non-Caucasian thesps. It was a concerted effort, with more than one instance where a family member role was rewritten as adopted to make them ethnic. Then, following the success of freshman series How To Get Away With Murder, Black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat, Jane the Virgin and especially Empire, which launched to huge ratings at the kickoff of pilot casting season, ethnic castings exploded this season.

The change is welcomed by talent agents who no longer have to call casting directors and ask them if they would possibly consider an ethnic actor for a part, knowing they would most likely be rejected. “I feel that the tide has turned,” one agent said. “I can pitch any actor for any role, and I think that’s good.”
It started off fine, but then veered into troubling waters with these paragraphs:This is not to say that there weren’t other hot commodities this pilot season—star names were in demand as usual, as were hot young guys and girls and occasional foreigners with that “sparkle.” But the big trend this pilot casting season was the huge spike in the number and prominence of roles that went to minority actors.

But, as is the case with any sea change, some suggest that the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction. Instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors, some agents signal. Many pilot characters this year were listed as open to all ethnicities, but when reps would call to inquire about an actor submission, they frequently have been told that only non-Caucasian actors would be considered. “Basically 50% of the roles in a pilot have to be ethnic, and the mandate goes all the way down to guest parts,” one talent representative said.

But replacing one set of rigid rules with another by imposing a quota of ethnic talent on each show may not be the answer.
Critics destroy Deadline

You can see the original headline, which was more specific and reflected the content better, above. In any case, critics quickly ripped Andreeva's piece:

TV networks have gone way overboard with this diversity stuff, Deadline says

By Joshua AlstonLast night, the Hollywood trade publication Deadline convened a small group of concerned Studio City citizens to nibble on finger sandwiches, crudites, and ambrosia salad and have a frank discussion about the…*ahem*...changes in the neighborhood. Y’know, how of the television landscape has shifted in recent months. Okay fine, if we have to come out and say it, Hollywood is unsettled by the influx of “ethnic actors” on television. But it’s not about prejudice or anything like that. People are justifiably concerned about property values!

That’s more or less the thesis of Nellie Andreeva’s trend piece, Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings—About Time Or Too Much Of A Good Thing?, which is a reasonable headline since the clicks aren’t going to bait themselves. Andreeva discusses the television season’s triumphs of diversity—Empire, Black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat, and How To Get Away With Murder—which alerted the television industry to the existence of minority actors and inspired network executives to hire more of them to star in 2015 pilots. (In case it’s unclear, the word “more” is intended to be read in the tone of Mr. Bumble from Oliver!) The scourge of non-white actors has become so severe, Andreeva writes, white actors are being crowded out of the field on which they’ve had a chokehold since the advent of television.
Hey, white Hollywood: Looking for work in the age of “Empire”? Here’s some friendly advice

The "ethnics" are invading TV!! What's a struggling white actor to do?!

By Arthur Chu
In every happy story there is always an unseen victim, someone who gets rained on by everyone else’s silver lining. You might think that the news for primetime TV in 2015 can only be good–audiences are celebrating the wave of smart programming with diverse ensembles both in front of and behind the camera.

And far from having to make some virtuous financial sacrifice at the altar of diversity, the network suits are cleaning up. Over-the-air primetime TV has never felt more vibrant or relevant, even as “alternative” streaming platforms continue to thrive. “Empire” has shattered records and reclaimed the eyeballs of the Twitter commentariat from “prestige” cable channels.

Critics are happy. Advertisers are happy. Viewers are happy. The cast and crew and showrunners and suits and stockholders are all happy.

But here comes Deadline, telling us who’s being victimized by all this: White actors. Hardworking white actors without star power who now have to compete for an ever-shrinking number of audition slots as more and more roles are designated “ethnic,” a term Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva uses so often it starts to not sound like a word anymore.
“Ethnic” actors aren’t stealing white roles: The racist, clueless backlash to TV’s greatest season begins

Nostalgic for the good ol' TV days of "Friends" and "Seinfeld," insiders are whining about "unfair" "ethnic quotas"

By Sonia Saraiya
Most alarming is Andreeva’s reductive implication that more roles for “ethnic” actors isn’t “fair” to white actors. Agents and casting directors that have long benefited from the incredible, overwhelming whiteness of Hollywood casting insert sly comments in her piece lamenting unfairness—if roles can’t be designated white (which they usually are, still, despite the existence of “Empire” and “Black-ish” and “Scandal,” because there is a lot of television in Hollywood) then shouldn’t we be “fair” and make them colorblind? I mean, if we’re going to be fair, and promote diversity, then shouldn’t we not ask about race at all?Dear Nellie Andreeva and Deadline, About Your Piece on Too Much “Ethnic Casting” on TV

By LuvvieWait. Wayment. Wait a gahtdamb minute. You’re pointing out that because people of color are getting roles, white actors are starting to suffer. Jehovah, hold my mule and be a fence because what I am NOT able to do is deal with this. This rash idea that because we got ONE MEASLY SEASON where TV isn’t whiter than fresh snow, then white actors are somehow being unfairly excluded from roles. WHAT ABOUT BLACK ACTORS WHO HAVE BEEN FIGHTING FOR PARTS SINCE FOREVER? AND LATIN@S WHO ONLY GET “SPICY” ROLES? AND ASIANS WHO CAN ONLY PLAY THE NERD? AND EVERYBODY WHO ISN’T WHITE?? Are you serious? You cannot be. You cannot think that it’s even a wonder that should be wondered.“HELL NO”: Shonda Rhimes and others destroy Deadline’s ridiculous “Ethnic Casting” backlash story

People are rightfully angry at writer Nellie Andreevna's notion that minorities are stealing white actors' roles

By Anna Silman
shonda rhimes @shondarhimes
1st Reaction:: HELL NO. Lemme take off my earrings, somebody hold my purse!
2nd Reaction: Article is so ignorant I can't even be bothered.

Nichole @tnwhiskeywoman
We still have so far to go to see underrepresented cultures on screen & @Deadline is like "these last 3-5 years should be enough, right?"

Dave Itzkoff @ditzkoff
Just astounding that something so tone deaf could be published in 2015 by a supposedly credible news source.

Matt Wallace @MattFnWallace
.@Deadline You are literally creating the problem when you label TV a white person's medium and suggest non-whites are a trend.

Farhad Manjoo @fmanjoo
Has the pendulum swung too far in the direction of TV representing the world how it actually is???!!!!
Comment:  For more on the subject, see TV Starts to Reflect America and White Males Still Dominate Hollywood.

March 24, 2015

TV starts to reflect America

So, So Fresh: US TV Is Starting to Reflect the US

By Eisa Nefertari UlenBuoyed by the success of ABC's "Modern Family," television has developed projects that more accurately express who we are. It is glorious and wonderful and mostly just fun. Shows like "Fresh Off the Boat," "Blackish," even "Empire," "Scandal" and "How to Get Away With Murder," do more than just center people of color in each 30 or 60-minute time slot, and also do much more than accurately reflect how we look. These shows also express a refreshing diversity in terms of how we think, how we feel, even how we parent in non-White families and, often gloriously, perfectly hilariously, these shows center how we be.

The moment feels a whole lot like the country has flash-danced back to another era. Television in the late 1980s and 1990s, back in the "Humpty" days, celebrated Black family. Sensing that the post-Norman Lear lineups were too white and that the United States was way ready for a few shades of brown, NBC piloted "The Cosby Show," and family television forever changed.
The examples include Fresh Off the Boat:Do we still want more Asians in our primetime lineup? Hells yeah! But only if they're featured on a show as good as "Fresh Off the Boat." The nearly unprecedented wonder of a television program featuring Asian-Americans makes "Fresh" worth focusing on. Perhaps because the comedy series is based on the 2013 same-titled memoir written by the real-life Eddie Huang, "Fresh" is fresh. The title teases the racialist, derogatory term used to describe newly arrived immigrants, but it's also a big pun, a play on the positive, affirming hip-hop colloquialism for anything extra ahead of the mainstream. This verbal dexterity is just one of the program's never-ending winks.And Empire, whichis beautiful, one of the most important programs in US television. On its surface, Lee Daniels' primetime serial is simply another iteration of the soap operas that have captivated US audiences since the 1964 debut of "Peyton Place." But, with the program's elegant use of Kehinde Wiley portraiture, examinations of the human condition, exploration of important social issues and its central theme of love, aching human love, "Empire" is a work of telegenic triumph.More on Empire, this year's breakout show in terms of diversity:

Why Can’t We Stop Watching ‘Empire’?What is it about “Empire,” the Fox series about a family of music moguls that wraps up its first season this week, that makes the show so addictive? It might be the juicy plotlines; Taraji P. Henson’s ferocious and charming portrayal of Cookie Lyon, the estranged matriarch of the family; the so-bad-it’s-almost-good soundtrack, produced by Timbaland; or some combination of all three. The soapy drama, which debuted in January, was the highest-rated new series on television this season. Its ratings and audience numbers have risen each week the show has aired—a phenomenon that is practically unheard-of. Fox has already renewed the series for a second season.

The appeal of “Empire” is widespread—roughly 15 million people watch every week—but according to Nielsen, the show resonates particularly strongly with black viewers, who make up 62 percent of its primary audience. NPR’s Code Switch blog called the “Empire” success a “particular achievement for a show with an almost entirely black cast.”
Below:  Bryshere Gray, Terrence Howard, Trai Byers at the FOX TV "Empire" Premiere Event at a ArcLight Cinerama Dome Theater on January 6, 2014 in Los Angeles, CA.

March 23, 2015

Marathon running on a wing and a prayer

One of my occasional articles for the Native media:

Native Presence at L.A. Marathon Provides Hydration and Spiritual Uplift

By Rob SchmidtAt Mile 17 of this year’s Los Angeles Marathon, held March 15, runners saw and heard something a little different: a powwow dancer and a drum group. It was a subtle reminder that they were on Gabrielino Tongva land—and that the land’s first inhabitants are still here.

For the second year in a row, the American Indian Community Council (AICC) was an official race sponsor. AICC is a central hub and resource for LA’s American Indian/Alaska Native community. It operates groups for women, elders, and the Indian Child Welfare Act, among other things.

AICC’s 2015 goal was to raise funds for United Native Youth of LA (UNYLA), which represents LA’s Native youth councils. Specifically, AICC plans to send Native youngsters on a Youth Leadership Journey to nearby reservations to learn about their roots. Some urban Indians have never visited a reservation.

The LA Marathon encourages participants to raise funds for causes. This spurred 27 Indians to run this year—up from only three a few years ago. They included long-time marathoners Shawn Imitates-Dog and Willie Sandoval as well as some first-timers. Nineteen completed the whole 26.2 miles while the others ran half-marathons in relays.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Indians Raise Awareness at LA Marathon.

Below:  "Young helpers pass out water to runners in the L.A. Marathon at the American Indian Community Council's water station."

March 22, 2015

Review of If I Ever Get Out of Here

If I Ever Get Out of Here"A heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family and friendship." --Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of TANTALIZE and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME

Lewis "Shoe" Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he's not used to is white people being nice to him--people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family's poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reiniger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan's side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis's home--will he still be his friend?

Acclaimed adult author Eric Gansworth makes his YA debut with this wry and powerful novel about friendship, memory, and the joy of rock 'n' roll.
“If I ever get out of here” Eric Gansworth“If I ever get out of here” is a wonderful coming-of-age story, with incredible insight into reservation life and the race relations between Indians and whites. It should have a place in every middle and high school library.

Recommended for ages 12-15.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).
Review: If I Ever Get Out of HereIn IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE Eric Gansworth has a brilliantly written tale of growth and change. Gansworth does an amazing job creating a fun, one of a kind story filled with lovable characters, classic rock and a taste of a way of life exclusive to a select few. Readers will feel as though they are living on the Tuscarora rez in the '70s.What I Like about Eric Gansworth's IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE by Debbie Reese

If I Ever Get Out of Here on Goodreads

Interesting that most Goodreads reviewers touted the book but gave it four rather than five stars. That leads me to my critique.

Rob's review

A lot of people want to compare If I Ever Get Out of Here to Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Both books cover the same ground: a Native kid struggling to fit in at a white school.

But Absolutely True Diary is an award-winning, top-10 kind of book. If I Ever Get Out of Here has a few flaws that keep it from reaching the same rarefied heights.

  • As someone on Goodreads said, the book "slow at the beginning." Gansworth gives us klunky and overlong passages of exposition to introduce Lewis's world. For instance:

    Tami cuts Lewis's braid but neglects to keep a lock for cultural reasons. Why didn't Lewis give her explicit instructions beforehand?

    Lewis asks to see Carson's guitar and Carson launches into a paragraph of how he got it and can't let anyone touch it. It's several times longer than a real-life explanation would be.

    Lewis makes up mocking nicknames for the white kids, which is a Tuscarora thing, then is surprised when no one likes him. Really? I believe he's attended white schools for several years, if not all his life. He certainly watches TV and reads comic books. He should understand the protocols of mainstream culture from these experiences.

    When you enter a (sub)culture that's foreign to you, you don't start by joking around. You act politely and observe quietly until people put you at ease.

    Whether the people are black, Latino, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Native, or white, that's Etiquette 101. Every kid, including Lewis, should know it.

  • For half the book, the driving force is Lewis's fear that Charlie will discover he's poor. Lewis comes up with excuse after excuse why Charlie can't visit his rundown home. Charlie is hurt and the issue threatens to drive a wedge between them. Lewis eventually lies to Charlie outright and problem subsides--for a while.

    I get that Lewis is embarrassed by and ashamed of his home. He can't "risk" his friendship by revealing his pitiful life, even though Charlie would (and eventually does) understand. But he goes almost to sitcom lengths of silliness to protect his secret.

    It would've been better to say something like, "My mother doesn't allow visitors." Or, "We don't have insurance so we can't risk visitors." I.e., make up a story that's close to the truth. Put the issue to bed and proceed with the friendship. Leaving the issue unresolved for weeks of character time feels like dramatic artifice.

    Besides...though I don't know much about poverty, I find it hard to believe Lewis's family couldn't fix the hole in their roof. The rain and snow coming through it makes their kitchen almost unusable. They have several able-bodied men and women, and enough money to buy Lewis an expensive Christmas present. A sheet of plywood to cover the hole would do wonders for their living conditions.

  • The bullying subplot

  • The biggest conflict arises when campus king Evan Reiniger decides to make Lewis his personal punching bag. He starts jumping and beating Lewis 2-3 times a day. As a scrawny kid with glasses, Lewis can't do much except try to fight back.

    For starters, you have to wonder how Evan keeps ambushing Lewis. Can't Lewis stay in the open where he can see Evan approaching? And exercise the better part of valor and retreat? Apparently not, since Evan keeps surprising him.

    Pointedly, not a single youngster or adult intervenes to help Lewis. The kids look the other way; the adults suggest he should "be a man" or "learn how to handle people." Part of it is because the wealthy Reiniger family finances the school's budget. And part is because these people are racist. They think Lewis's kinfolk will turn on the whites if they take his side. Or worse, that he's provoking the fights in some nefarious scheme to take advantage of them.

    Charlie is big enough to fight off Evan...but Charlie is under the impression that his father has forbidden him to fight. If Charlie lifts a finger to help Lewis, he thinks his family will be disgraced and his father kicked out of the Air Force. So he turns away when his best friend is getting beaten in front of him.

    Even in 1975, when bullying wasn't the cause it is now, this is ridiculous. I was in school then, and I'm confident no school would tolerate a kid's being bruised and bloodied more than once or twice. If Lewis was injured or killed, the school would face a massive lawsuit and the staff would face criminal penalties. No one's money is sufficient to allow such a reign of terror.

    The whole bullying plot feels contrived. Lewis happens to be too small to fight back. Charlie happens to be a pacifist who can't intervene. Evan's family happens to be rich enough to avoid consequences. The school officials happen to be bigots who think Lewis is somehow causing the beatings.

    Finally, Lewis simply refuses to go to school unless someone does something. Two weeks later, a counselor says they've sent Evan away and Lewis can return. Something caused this outcome--something involving Charlie--but no one will tell Lewis what.

    Another fifty pages pass before we learn what happened, off-page, to stop the bullying. You can almost see Gansworth thinking, "How can I stretch out the bullying conflict so I can resolve it near the climax?" Again, too much artifice.

  • Fortunately, If I Ever Get Out of Here ends well, which makes up for these plot failings. You feel like you've gained a real insight into the hardscrabble life of the Tuscarora in upstate New York. You can believe that Lewis is a real person who might grow up to be a musician or writer like Eric Gansworth.

    In conclusion, I'd say the book is solid if not spectacular. Rob's rating: 8.0 of 10.

    March 21, 2015

    Review of Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong

    Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong (Indigenous Americas Series)In this sweeping work of memoir and commentary, leading cultural critic Paul Chaat Smith illustrates with dry wit and brutal honesty the contradictions of life in “the Indian business.”

    Raised in suburban Maryland and Oklahoma, Smith dove head first into the political radicalism of the 1970s, working with the American Indian Movement until it dissolved into dysfunction and infighting. Afterward he lived in New York, the city of choice for political exiles, and eventually arrived in Washington, D.C., at the newly minted National Museum of the American Indian (“a bad idea whose time has come”) as a curator. In his journey from fighting activist to federal employee, Smith tells us he has discovered at least two things: there is no one true representation of the American Indian experience, and even the best of intentions sometimes ends in catastrophe. Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong is a highly entertaining and, at times, searing critique of the deeply disputed role of American Indians in the United States. In “A Place Called Irony,” Smith whizzes through his early life, showing us the ironic pop culture signposts that marked this Native American’s coming of age in suburbia: “We would order Chinese food and slap a favorite video into the machine—the Grammy Awards or a Reagan press conference—and argue about Cyndi Lauper or who should coach the Knicks.” In “Lost in Translation,” Smith explores why American Indians are so often misunderstood and misrepresented in today’s media: “We’re lousy television.” In “Every Picture Tells a Story,” Smith remembers his Comanche grandfather as he muses on the images of American Indians as “a half-remembered presence, both comforting and dangerous, lurking just below the surface.”

    Smith walks this tightrope between comforting and dangerous, offering unrepentant skepticism and, ultimately, empathy. “This book is called Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong, but it’s a book title, folks, not to be taken literally. Of course I don’t mean everything, just most things. And ‘you’ really means we, as in all of us.”
    Some glowing reviews:

    Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong, by Paul Chaat Smith

    Paul Chaat Smith and His Pal Irony Offer a Dose of Indian Reality

    A Review of Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong by Paul Chaat Smith

    Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong (review)

    Comments echo my thoughts

    Some Goodreads comments give a more realistic picture of the book:Found this weeding the library's collection and its title cried out to be read. Another hidden gem. A collection of disparate essays on being Indian and about their place in the world. I enjoyed the first third of the book more than the remainder which discussed art and Indian artists. Smith is witty, cheeky and is all over issues, debunking stereotypes, endorsing stereotypes. You never quite know what he's thinking or where he stands as his views have evolved over time. We have the Indian as: drunk, noble savage, victim, etc. Great writing and insight from a guy who never graduated from college. A really witty essay on irony. Smith grew up as a suburban Indian, was involved with AIM, and then becomes a curator at the NMAI. Go figure.

    I didn't have my mind blown by this book, but it was an interesting look into the mind and identity conflict of modern Native Americans. I especially liked the parts where they talk about within the Indian community, classification by tribe enrollment and blood percentage.

    Parts I wanted to enlarge and hang on the wall or send to friends and family, they were so spot-on and funny and provocative. Others I found myself skimming. Maybe because it's a collection of previously released essays so there was some repetition, and also because some were written for museum exhibits. The great parts made it worth it, though.

    Unfortunately, this book turned out to be a series of essays and lectures from the curator of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Indians. Although parts of it were indeed about the incorrect portrayal of American Indians in history books and movies, much of it was about current Indian artists. I was hoping to be educated about real American Indians but was not.

    I was least compelled by the middle of the book, where each chapter was clearly originally written as an introduction to an art show with which Smith was connected (as writer or curator). There's a fair bit of repetition between the essay, and the words would be stronger if they ran alongside more examples of the art Smith's referencing. Still, there are some wonderful gems of insight, mockery, and politics in these essays too--very well worth the read.
    Comment:  I agree that Everything You Know is too much about the art world to be of general interest. The ideal reader is probably a museum-going, art-loving Indian like Smith.

    March 20, 2015

    New Black perspective = "get over it"

    Common, Pharrell, and ‘The New Black’: An Ignorant Mentality That Undermines the Black Experience

    The rapper Common made waves during a recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart when he offered his take on race in America. It isn’t nearly so simple.

    By Stereo Williams
    “The New Black dreams and realizes that it’s not pigmentation: it’s a mentality, and it’s either going to work for you or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re going to be on,” Pharrell said.

    His words were laughably empty and insulting to the current climate, the history of black ambition in the face of tremendous cultural oppression, and the reality of institutional racism; but they also represented a vocal cadre of black celebritydom that is calling for the black community to basically “get over it.” With the racial conversation in the national spotlight, stars like Williams, Kanye West, and others aren’t addressing racism in as much as they are deflecting the conversation.

    Rapper/actor Common appeared on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart last week to promote his new film Run All Night. Alongside singer-songwriter John Legend, the Chicago rhymer won an Oscar in February for “Glory,” the theme song from the Martin Luther King biopic Selma. While discussing the legacy of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the current tensions, Stewart expressed what he’s seen from white people who are resistant to discussing structural racism.

    “There’s a real vein of anger, like ‘Hey, man—I didn’t have slaves!’” Stewart stated. “But they’re not talking about that, they’re talking about a power structure.”

    Common, while not countering Stewart’s statement, offered his perspective on the way to heal wounds that have existed on American soil for centuries.

    “We all know there’s been some bad history in our country. We know that racism exists,” the star conceded, before adding, “I’m…extending a hand. And I think a lot of generations and different cultures are saying ‘Hey, we want to get past this. We’ve been bullied and we’ve been beat down, but we don’t want it anymore. We’re not extending a fist and saying, ‘Hey, you did us wrong.’ It’s more like ‘Hey, I’m extending my hand in love. Let’s forget about the past as much as we can, and let’s move from where we are now. How can we help each other? Can you try to help us because we’re going to help ourselves, too.’ That’s really where we are right now.”
    And:The idea that black people’s reaction to racism—and not the racism itself—is what must be addressed is an effective distraction that decenters the struggle of black people. It centers the comfort of white people, absolving white supremacy and indicting black rage as “the problem.”

    Celebrities like Common and Raven-Symone are but ambassadors of the growing New Black culture that Pharrell became the unwitting poster child for in his now-infamous Oprah interview. “Upward mobility,” sayeth the New Black, “that is the promise of America and because I have achieved—you can, too.” They conveniently romanticize their climb to wherever they are in their lives and careers, telling themselves that they got there via personal drive and ambition that is unique to them. But structural obstacles kept most of their peers stagnant in socio-economic standing; these stars achieved in spite of racism—not because it doesn’t exist. So it is dangerous to put the onus on the oppressed people, as if you believe no one cared to climb the ladder until you came along. Poor public schools and overpriced housing mean that things aren’t really designed for you and your peers to “make it out.” You can’t be “exceptional” without being an exception.

    The New Black perspective sounds like an old black pathology. Exceptionalism and respectability have never saved us from the oppressive weight of racism. We’ve always achieved greatness in a country that doesn’t see value in blackness beyond a commodity; maintained dignity in a land that has consistently dehumanized and stigmatized who we are. White supremacy often insists that black people prove themselves exceptional just to share a table with white mediocrity. It is not for black people to extend a hand; it is for the privileged and the powerful to remove their boot from the community’s collective neck. These celebrities seem to be disconnected from the pulse and spirit of many of their peers, but their voices resonate far and wide in pop culture. And more black celebrities should take the struggles of the community at least seriously enough to not offer condescension, rhetoric, and smug dismissals when confronted with the realities of race and racism. Those with the biggest pulpits can’t continue to preach the gospel of positivity, condescension, and denial. It was deflecting when Bill Cosby gave his infamous “Pound Cake speech” in 2004 and it’s deflecting now. It’s an old routine.

    When you think about it, there isn’t much “new” about New Blacks at all.
    John Legend, who appeared with Common at the Oscars, has a better understanding of racism than his partner:

    Q&A: John Legend on race, Common, Sam Smith, 'Blurred Lines'

    By Mesfin FekaduAP: Common received some backlash for his comments about ending racism on "The Daily Show" last week. What are your thoughts?

    Legend: Oh yeah, I heard a little bit about it and I understand what he's saying because I do believe that part of us ending racism is us seeing each other's humanity and learning to love each other, even if we look different or worship differently or live differently. But I think it's not enough for us to extend the hand of love. I think it's important that that goes both ways. It's important also that we look at policies we need to change as well.

    It's important for us also to fight for certain changes that need to happen. And one of those issues that I really care about is education. But also another one is incarceration, which is what I talked about at the Oscars. And mass incarceration is a policy that's kind of built up over the last four decades and it's destroyed families and communities, and something we need to change. And it's fallen disproportionally on black and brown communities, especially black communities, and it's kind of a manifestation of structural racism. So when you think about that kind of thing, it's not enough to say we need to love each other, you have to go behind that and say we need to change these policies, we need to fight, we need to protest, we need to agitate for change.
    Another posting shows how whites are happy to dismiss talk about racism--with the help of the "New Black" culture.

    Survey: most white Americans think people talk about race too much

    By German LopezAs national debates about race and the criminal justice system heat up following the police killings of various unarmed black men, a new survey shows that black and white Americans are deeply divided on discussions about race.

    A YouGov survey of nearly 1,000 Americans found that 57 percent of white Americans think the nation spends too much time talking about race, while 49 percent of black Americans hold the opposite view.

    The majority findings don't necessarily reflect the opinions of all black and white Americans. YouGov found some dissent within both groups: 18 percent of white Americans said people don't talk about race enough, while 18 percent of black Americans said people talk about race too much.

    Still, the findings continue a trend of surveys that show white people tend to see race as less of an issue than their black counterparts do. Previous decades of surveys from the Pew Research Center found that black Americans express lower confidence than their white counterparts in police's ability to treat black and white people equally.
    Comment:  It doesn't have a label, but you see the New Black kind of denial among Indians too. Undoubtedly among other minorities as well. Everyone wants to fit in and get along rather than raise uncomfortable but important issues.

    For more on the subject, see Race at the 2015 Oscars and Pharrell Apologizes for Headdress.

    March 19, 2015

    America's "intentional ignorance" about racism

    Noam Chomsky: “Intentional ignorance” fuels American racism

    Linguist and activist tackles America's original sin in new interview

    By Luke Brinker
    The harsh realities of American racism and how it functions are seldom acknowledged, Chomsky argues—the willful result of national myth-making and truth-shrouding.

    “There is also a common variant of what has sometimes been called ‘intentional ignorance’ of what it is inconvenient to know: ‘Yes, bad things happened in the past, but let us put all of that behind us and march on to a glorious future, all sharing equally in the rights and opportunities of citizenry,’” he explains.

    Intentional ignorance dates to the earliest days of settlement—when American colonists would reassure themselves that their displacement of Native Americans was part of a “humanitarian intervention” against “savagery”—and continues to the present day, undergirding discussions of African Americans’ alleged pathologies, for instance.

    “The appalling statistics of today’s circumstances of African-American life can be confronted by other bitter residues of a shameful past, laments about black cultural inferiority, or worse, forgetting how our wealth and privilege was created in no small part by the centuries of torture and degradation of which we are the beneficiaries and they remain the victims,” Chomsky notes. “As for the very partial and hopelessly inadequate compensation that decency would require—that lies somewhere between the memory hole and anathema.”
    Noam Chomsky on the Roots of American Racism

    By George Yancy and Noam ChomskyG.Y.: This “intentional ignorance” regarding inconvenient truths about the suffering of African-Americans can also be used to frame the genocide of Native Americans. It was 18th century Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus who argued that Native Americans were governed by traits such as being “prone to anger,” a convenient myth for justifying the need for Native Americans to be “civilized” by whites. So, there are myths here as well. How does North America’s “amnesia” contribute to forms of racism directed uniquely toward Native Americans in our present moment and to their continual genocide?

    N.C.: The useful myths began early on, and continue to the present. One of the first myths was formally established right after the King of England granted a Charter to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629, declaring that conversion of the Indians to Christianity is “the principal end of this plantation.” The colonists at once created the Great Seal of the Colony, which depicts an Indian holding a spear pointing downward in a sign of peace, with a scroll coming from his mouth pleading with the colonists to “Come over and help us.” This may have been the first case of “humanitarian intervention”—and, curiously, it turned out like so many others.

    Years later Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story mused about “the wisdom of Providence” that caused the natives to disappear like “the withered leaves of autumn” even though the colonists had “constantly respected” them. Needless to say, the colonists who did not choose “intentional ignorance” knew much better, and the most knowledgeable, like Gen. Henry Knox, the first secretary of war of the United States, described “the utter extirpation of all the Indians in most populous parts of the Union [by means] more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru.”

    Knox went on to warn that “a future historian may mark the causes of this destruction of the human race in sable colors.” There were a few—very few—who did so, like the heroic Helen Jackson, who in 1880 provided a detailed account of that “sad revelation of broken faith, of violated treaties, and of inhuman acts of violence [that] will bring a flush of shame to the cheeks of those who love their country.” Jackson’s important book barely sold. She was neglected and dismissed in favor of the version presented by Theodore Roosevelt, who explained that “The expansion of the peoples of white, or European, blood during the past four centuries…has been fraught with lasting benefit to most of the peoples already dwelling in the lands over which the expansion took place,” notably those who had been “extirpated” or expelled to destitution and misery.

    The national poet, Walt Whitman, captured the general understanding when he wrote that “The nigger, like the Injun, will be eliminated; it is the law of the races, history… A superior grade of rats come and then all the minor rats are cleared out.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that the scale of the atrocities and their character began to enter even scholarship, and to some extent popular consciousness, though there is a long way to go.

    That’s only a bare beginning of the shocking record of the Anglosphere and its settler-colonial version of imperialism, a form of imperialism that leads quite naturally to the “utter extirpation” of the indigenous population—and to “intentional ignorance” on the part of beneficiaries of the crimes.

    March 18, 2015

    Native stereotypes in Journey's End

    Some talk about the non-political aspects of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Journey's End:

    The Ars staff picks our least-favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes

    Turns out Trek isn't like pizza—when it's bad, it's just really really bad.

    By Ars Staff
    The plot feels like the result of hours of sleepless brainstorming by a bunch of people on a rapidly approaching deadline—as if, at about 3am the morning the script was due, someone yelled out "GUYS, I've got it: let's do a deep criticism of colonialism and national policy by drawing a parallel between a Federation-Cardassian dispute and government land-grabs of the late 1800s!"

    And then, instead of shooting the idea down, someone else yelled "And we should have actual for-real Native Americans in it! We've had Nazi planets and Roman planets—we need a Native American planet!" And then instead of a third person punching the first two people in the face, they banged out the screenplay and turned it in and then all fell asleep at their desks.

    Actually, the person most directly responsible for this episode is none other than Ronald D. Moore, who also wrote some of the greatest TNG episodes (along with, you know, Battlestar Galactica and stuff). Moore's touch shines through in a few places—the scenes with Wesley and Picard are actually quite good!—but it's hard to understand what the hell he was trying to accomplish with the colony that looks like a hastily built My First Adobe Village on a soundstage. The planet's inhabitants are a pastiche of 1950s-era "Cowboys and Indians" antagonists, and once they start nagging Wesley about pantheism and how he needs to get his Space Peyote on and do a "vision quest," I was ready to pull the eject handle and bail out.

    Tim Lynch Star Trek Reviews Wiki: Journey's EndI liked the two major guest stars after Wes and Nechayev, those being Tom Jackson as Lakanta and Ned Romero as Anthwara. Both did a good job being enigmatic and frustratingly calm; while I'm not sure it's particularly realistic, it really _did_ work for dramatic purposes. (George Aguilar as Wakasa, the most hostile member of the council, however, has to go. Bleh.)

    I do think the whole "look, we're including Native Americans, aren't we wonderfully multicultural!" angle of the show was a bit overdone, however. First, it stuck out like a sore thumb--I'm all for keeping cultural differences alive, but not when every scene featuring these people is saying "Look, we are a separate culture--a culture that's not yours and that's separate, got it?" That's more or less what was here; thankfully, it was rarely the majority of any given scene, some of the early ones aside. Second, I'm not certain it's a particularly accurate portrayal; I don't know why, but I have that feeling. (My own contact with Native Americans has been exceedingly limited, however, so I'd appreciate comments from those with more experience than I on how well it worked.) As I said, it worked beautifully for dramatic purposes, and since I don't know enough of the reality to comment, that's all I can really talk about.
    Pan-Indian mishmash

    I talked about the problems in Dorvan V's relocation conflict. Here are some problems with the Indians themselves:

  • The Indians mostly have long hair. They wear hybrid Native-meets-Renaissance clothing. They speak normally--perhaps a bit too formally--with a smattering of spiritual mumbo-jumbo.

    In other words, they're not quite modern like the Federation visitors, but they're not quite stereotypical either. In fact, they're like almost every other "alien" race in Star Trek. Their faces and hair, clothing, and mannerisms diverge slightly from the Federation norm--enough to mark them as different without requiring any real effort.

  • Dorvan V's tribe isn't named and has no specific culture. Are these people Cherokee, Navajo, Haudenosaunee, Ojibwe, or what? These tribal groups aren't the same thing--in fact, they're quite different--so it matters.

    The colony may be a pan-Indian agglomerate of several cultures. But then the people wouldn't act in unison, as if they had one set of sacred beliefs, so that isn't plausible. I imagine the colonists were meant to be a single culture, but the writers were too ignorant or scared to come up with something specific.

  • The village does look like "My First Adobe Village," but that's pretty much true of every alien race visited by the Federation. Presumably the budgets required that every outdoor scene looked like it was filmed on a "primitive village" set.

  • Probably the worst bit is the so-called "vision quest" in the Habak--whatever that is. One, the room has a jumble of Native artifacts from different cultures. That's flatly wrong. Two, vision quests typically involve going off into the wilderness and fasting for four days. They're not the same as any supernatural event involving Natives and visions.

    Vision quests aren't a part of every Native culture. And they don't occur in four-walled rooms with artifacts. The whole thing is patently phony.

    Compounding the problem, the Indian leading the vision quest, Lakanta, turns out to be the non-Native Traveler. This implies Native religion is the same as or similar to alien science-magic. It belittles such religion by suggesting a sufficiently advanced alien could imitate or even become a Native spirit.

    If a Christian prophet performing miracles turned out to be an alien, would that be an acceptable commentary on Christianity's authenticity? Because this is kind of the same thing.

  • In terms of stereotyping, Journey's End is fair to poor. The Indians aren't much better than the ones in 1960s Westerns like Bonanza, which also portrayed them sympathetically.

    Indeed, I'd say the relocation debate is more interesting than the pseudo-Indians. It might've been better to invent a fictional culture rather than give us this mishmash of Indian ideas and concepts.

    For more on Star Trek, see The Native Spock and Critique of Journey's End.

    March 17, 2015

    Relocation conflict in Journey's End

    Here's the third episode of Star Trek to deal with Indians (after The Paradise Syndrome and How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth):

    Journey's End (Star Trek: The Next Generation)"Journey's End" is the 172nd episode of the science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. The 20th episode of the seventh season.

    Wesley Crusher questions his future as the Enterprise is under orders to forcibly remove the descendants of native North Americans (here called 'Indians') from a planet being yielded to the Cardassians.


    I've mentioned Journey's End before, but I haven't done a detailed posting on it. This posting should rectify that.

    Most people thought this was an average-to-poor episode. Partly because of the muddled Native plot, but mostly because of Wesley Crusher's sendoff.

    Only the Native plot is relevant here, so let's focus on that. Some commentaries on the politics in Journey's End:

    Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Journey's End"

    By Jamahl EpsicokhanThis character thread is set against the backdrop of a Federation colony—made up of American Indians who have preserved a centuries-old culture on this far-away world—being told they are being forced off their land because of political machinations larger than themselves. While the notion of "Space Indians" feels like something that would've been fodder for TOS, the writers bring a decidedly TNG sensibility to it, with Picard wistfully noting the disturbing parallels between this assignment and what happened to Native Americans hundreds of years ago. (Less effective is the contrived guilt surrounding the claim that one of Picard's ancestors was a man who participated in a massacre of Indians, which seems superfluous while indulging the show's spiritual mumbo-jumbo as somehow able to magically provide facts that most people would need books for.)And:While it has its moments, "Journey's End" doesn't ever jell. The political solution is too easily solved, such that Picard is able to sidestep the distasteful actions we had been told the whole episode would be unavoidable.Retro Review: Journey's End

    By MichelleEven as a longtime fan, I didn’t understand what had supposedly happened during the Cardassian War until long after the fact, in Pocket Books’ novels which aren’t even considered canon. The rise of the Cardassians as the archenemy of the Federation must have been even more vexing for casual viewers. We heard about atrocities as far back as “The Wounded,” but we never got an explanation of whether there had been a declared war, a series of border skirmishes, a conflict where the official governments routinely blamed rogue factions for attacks on civilians; we never had an explanation of why, if the Federation had been at war with Cardassia, they weren’t more involved in the plight of the Bajorans before the discovery of the wormhole; we never received any retrofitting of the Cardassians into the rich fictional history of the Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, etc. So it’s difficult from the start of “Journey’s End” to take Nechayev at her word when she tells Picard that uprooting and resettling various Federation colonists is the only way to maintain the peace with this deadly enemy. Picard isn’t much persuaded and the Indians don’t buy it for a second, which makes Starfleet look naive at best, downright stupid at worst. No wonder Wesley is thinking about leaving. The Native Americans claim they settled on this particular planet because the mountains and rivers spoke to them–their beliefs are written as a mess of tradition that comes across as both ignorant and patronizing on the part of the writers–but I can’t help wondering about the policies that drove them so far out in the first place, to a planet that must have been on the border of Cardassian space long before it was swallowed up into the Cardassian Empire itself. Did these people really feel so uncomfortable within the Federation that moving to the Cardassian border seemed like a good idea? That fact and the ease with which the Cardassians agree to let them stay suggests that we’re only getting a bit of the full picture, which remains maddeningly elusive all through the next war.Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Genesis”/“Journey’s End”

    By Zack HandlenThe episode does its best to be as respectful and open-minded as possible, and should be lauded for that. But I won’t lie—something about watching men dressed in recognizable Native America-in-the-’90s garb talking about how they don’t want to leave their home because the mountains speak to them rubs me the wrong way. I’m just not sure if my reaction is one that deserve legitimate critical analysis, or if it’s just me knee-jerking at what, to my cynical eyes, looks like a lot mystical bullcrap. I’ve always appreciated how hard TNG has worked over the years to treat all cultures (except Ferengi, because ew) with respect, and it’s not like the Indians we see here act that much differently than, say, the Klingons Worf visited when he went on a spiritual retreat. But it still feels like pandering.

    Worse, it feels like treating an issue that’s relevant in modern times—guilt over the way white settlers and the American government murdered and stole land from an indigenous people—as though it will still have the same level of relevancy 300 years into the future. On the major dramatic cruxes of the episode is Picard’s guilt over having to moving a group of Indians. These Indians having been living on the same planet for 20 years, but now, due to a new treaty signed by the Federation and the Cardassian empire, that planet no longer belongs to them. The Cardassians are coming, and before they arrive, Admiral Necheyev tasks Picard and the Enterprise with making sure the planet’s current inhabitants have been moved to a less diplomatically desirable location. Unfortunately, the Indians don’t want to move, because the place has a special meaning for them, so now Picard has a big case of the ol’ White Guilt blues. It certainly doesn’t improve his frame of mind when the tribal leader tells the captain he’s convinced this is all happening because one of Picard’s ancestors was involved in a massacre of Native Americans centuries before.

    Actually, I don’t really see how that should affect Picard’s frame of mind in the slightest, because it is ridiculous. The idea that he would feel some kind of racial culpability for a crime someone hundreds and hundreds of years dead committed is absurd, especially seeing as how he didn’t even know of the event until this episode.
    Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Journey’s End”

    By Keith DeCandidoAnd in the end, the solution is not a perfect one. In fact, it’s a crappy one, but it’s also the only one that will work in the situation. This episode marks the beginning of a period in Trek history where the chinks in paradise will get shown (which we’ll mostly see on Deep Space Nine). The treaty between the Cardassians and Federation is a classic compromise in that it makes no one happy, and like far too many decisions made by those in the halls of power, have unintended consequences for the ordinary person. Both DS9 and Voyager will run with these (the former in actual story sense, the latter really only for its setup), but this is the episode that really set it in motion. It’s only Trek’s second shot at an ongoing story thread, and the only one that encompassed three separate TV shows.DeCandido adds some Native-related trivia:Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi’s interest in the “ancient west,” established in “A Fistful of Datas,” apparently extended to the history of the region as well as the stories told, as she’s familiar with the Pueblo Revolt.

    Ned Romero returns to Trek as Anthwara—he played Krell, the Klingon in “A Private Little War” on the original series, and will return as the image of Chakotay’s grandfather in Voyager’s “The Fight.” George Aguilar and Tom Jackson play, respectively, Wakasa and Lakanta.

    This episode starts an ongoing thread in both TNG and DS9 involving the Demilitarized Zone between Cardassian and Federation space, leading to the formation of a rebel group, which will be formed in the DS9 two-parter “The Maquis.”

    Although it was never stated onscreen, the intention was always for Dorvan V to be the planet that the Voyager character Chakotay came from. The post-finale Voyager novels by Christie Golden and Kirsten Beyer have made that explicit.
    Rob's reactions

    The resettlement issue was potentially rich with drama, but TNG handled it no better than any superficial TV show. Among the missed opportunities:

  • Picard never says exactly what he'll do if the colonists refuse to cooperate. What's his stun the colonists into submission? To beam them up against their will?

    What if they passively resist this effort? What if they actively fight it? Is Picard prepared to exchange phaser fire with them? To lock them up in the brig and transport them as prisoners?

    And what if the colony has 10,000 or 100,000 or a million people, which is certainly possible? How would Picard transport that many people and their possessions? Especially if they didn't line up to be transported like good little sheep?

  • On the other hand, Picard doesn't challenge the Indians' position. They've lived on Dorvan V for only 20 years. How can they claim the land is sacred to them?

    A sacred site is traditionally where an event central to the tribe's existence happened. Especially the tribe's birth--when it emerged from whatever came before. A typical example would be the Hopi Tribe's sipapu in the Grand Canyon.

    The Dorvan V tribe, whatever it is, must have a place of origin back on Earth. That's where the people came from, so that location should be sacred. Sacredness isn't a quality you carry with you in a suitcase; it's attached to particular pieces of land for particular reasons.

    American Indian history shows this. When tribes were relocated, they held fast to their traditional sacred sites, even if they were hundreds of miles away. Typically, their new homelands didn't become "sacred"--at least not for centuries, after which the old homelands might be forgotten.

    In short, "sacredness" isn't transferable. So the whole premise of a 20-year-old colony world's being "sacred" needs to be interrogated. How did Dorvan V become sacred so quickly? Must the Federation take this "sacredness" as seriously as sacredness that's 10,000 or more years old?

  • No dissension in the Federation?

  • Of course, there's no mention of the legal and political wrangling that would occur in the resettlement scenario. Turning over colony worlds to an enemy would have to be an unpopular move. People who remembered what originally happened to the Indians would surely protest. The episode might be more believable if the Federation were split into factions, not united behind Starfleet.

  • The same is true of the Enterprise itself. Picard isn't the type to blindly obey orders, yet he doesn't consider disobeying these orders. I'm pretty sure he could find a pretext in Federation law, which presumably protects an indigenous people's right to self-determination. It would be astounding if the "advanced" Federation offered fewer protections than today's international law.

    What if Picard went off-script and decided to take the colonists' side? What if the Enterprise crew split along ideological lines, with half arguing for the colonists and half for the Federation? What if Ensign Bearclaw (How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth), at least, advocated the colonists' position?

    I don't know how an hour-long show would resolve such an internecine conflict. Perhaps with Picard reprimanded or Bearclaw court-martialed. But it would be more dramatically interesting.

  • Like I said, Journey's End is a missed opportunity. Instead of a sophisticated political drama, the episode gives us a grade-school version of colonization. White man wants the Indians to move; Indians don't want to move. Which explains why Journey's End gets mediocre ratings.

    For more on Star Trek, see The Native Spock and Critique of Journey's End.

    March 16, 2015

    Running Zack in Saved by the Bell

    I didn't watch Saved by the Bell when it was on the air. But every long-running show has to have an "Indian" episode, it seems, and Saved by the Bell had one too.

    Here's the basic idea:

    Running Zack (24 Nov. 1990)If Zack wants to run the track meet, he better prepare his ancestry report where he gets help from an Indian.Running ZackZack fails his family heritage presentation. Unless he can make it up, he is off the track team. His teacher Miss Wentworth arranges a tutor for Zack named Chief Henry, who happens to be a Native American. Zack soon learns about his own Native American heritage, but does not feel like going to the upcoming track rally when tragedy strikes.From what I read, fans seem to think Running Zack was one of the worst episodes ever. The whole series seems to be written for juvenile pre-teens, but I don't think Running Zack is worse than other Native-themed episodes I've seen. I'd say it's mediocre rather than terrible.

    Let's go through the major plot points and compare what the critics have said:

    episode #29 ‘Running Zack.’

    Saved by the Bell Season 2, Episode 13: “Running Zack”

    Running Zack

    to my impressions.

    First presentation

  • Miss Wentworth's students have to do a family-tree presentation, which involves talking for 30 seconds in front of the class. That's more like something you'd do in 3rd grade than in high school, but hey...this is a compressed TV sitcom, so never mind.

  • Zack finds an old photo of an Indian. His mother told him the Indian was a distant relative. That's good enough for Zack to base a half-assed report on.

    This is roughly the rationale given by wannabes such as Ward Churchill, Elizabeth Warren, and Johnny Depp. Claiming Native ancestry based on a hypothetical ancestor in one's family lore is common. If a kid is lazy and doesn't do his homework, he could easily seize on such a story for a class report.

    A couple of people said Zack is clearly Nordic (or Anglo-Saxon, or Aryan) and couldn't be Native. But he didn't declare himself to be Native because of one ancestor. He could have a distant Native ancestor in his family tree. And since the assignment apparently was to talk about one of his ancestors, he was doing what he was told.

  • Zack gives a perfunctory talk using Screech as his assistant. Zack draws "war paint" on Screech and gives him a toy tomahawk. Screech stands like a cigar-store Indian and talks like Tonto.

    Yes, it's a stereotypical if not racist presentation. But Zack is supposed to be ignorant about Indians at this point. Since Running Zack aired two years before Dances with Wolves, and kids are still dressing and acting this way today, it's not an terribly unbelievable report. Many people, especially naive youngsters, really are this dumb and foolish.

  • Meeting Chief Henry

  • Miss Wentworth sends Zack to meet her friend Chief Henry. The critics wondered how they could've met. Perhaps at UCLA, since he said he went there. It's totally normal to meet Indians in everyday life, especially in an urban environment such as Los Angeles. The real issue isn't how they met, but why people are questioning it.

    Critics also wondered about his "Chief Henry" name. Yes, it's a stereotypical name for someone who isn't a chief. But it could just be a nickname. If that were the only problem, I'd call the episode a success.

    More important than these points is the overall impression Henry makes. He's played by Dehl Berti, a Chiricahua Apache actor. That's good; no redface casting here. He dresses and acts like a beach bum, not a wise elder or shaman. He punctures Zack's ignorance about Indians several times--for instance, saying he learned beading in a class at UCLA, not from his elders.

    Except for the minor details noted above, and too many Native artifacts lying around, I'd say this is an above-average TV portrayal. In fact, I'm not sure I can think of a better one in a sitcom before 1990.

  • Zack finds his ancestor's photo in a book and goes back to Chief Henry to learn more. Again, the Indian confounds Zack's expectations. Henry gives Zack a beaded headband and the name "Running Zack" before heading out to surf.

    Critics complained that Running Zack is a stereotypical "Indian name." True, but Henry knew Zack was a runner. I think Henry was playing with Zack--giving him a faux name to match his hobby. I don't think it was supposed to be a genuine naming ceremony.

  • Second presentation

  • Zack does a makeup presentation in a full buckskin costume, headdress, and warpaint. This is perhaps the most offensive thing in Running Zack. He's read the books and learned about his ancestor...but he still comes to class in the most stereotypical outfit possible? He apparently hasn't learned a thing about how Indians look.

  • Despite the ridiculous outfit, Zack gives a decent summary of his ancestor, who turns out to be Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Zack names a real Indian from a real tribe and gives his real history, including his "I will fight no more forever" line.

    That's a nice dollop of history for a lowbrow comedy. It's more than you'll get from most shows, even today, with their no-name or fictional tribes.

  • Chief Henry dies suddenly. The critics asked why. It could be anything--it doesn't matter what. The critics said Zack didn't know him long enough to grieve. True, but sometimes you can connect deeply with a person in just a few minutes. This was clearly meant to be like that.

    Again, compressed sitcom. I think the episode wanted us to imagine Chief Henry had two long soulful meetings with Zack. That they didn't appear on screen is a limitation of the format.

  • Chief Henry's ghost

  • Chief Henry's ghost visits Zack while he's asleep. He's dressed in a white suit and talks about getting his wings and enjoying his afterlife. Critics said that sounded like Christianity rather than a Native religion.

    True, but Henry could've been Christian or a Native/Christian blend. Again, it subverts expectations not to have Henry mouth platitudes about the Great Spirit or the happy hunting grounds.

    One also could connect the ghost to the idea that all Indians have supernatural powers, but I don't think the show was suggesting that. I took it as more of a dream sequence, even though Zack seemed fully awake. I guess there was a whiff of Indians = supernatural, but not enough to bother me.

  • Other aspects of Running Zack were arguably worse than the Native storyline. Screech's malapropisms and misunderstandings are stupid rather than funny. Jessie's stalking Lisa because Lisa's ancestors were slaves and Jessie's were slavetraders is also stupid rather than funny. No one feels incredible guilt because a few of their ancestors did something bad hundreds of years ago.

    Let's sum it up. First presentation: Intentionally racist and bad. Meetings with Chief Henry: Good. Second presentation: Bad looks, good words. Meeting with Chief Henry's ghost: Not bad.

    On a scale of 1-10, I'd call that a 5 or 6. Which means mediocre, not terrible.

    Overall, Running Zack was poor, but not because of the Indian bits. I think those were some of its more interesting parts. I'd give the episode a grade of C or C-, not an F.

    March 15, 2015

    Off the Rails at Native Voices

    Today I went to see the play Off the Rails at the Autry Museum. Here are some discussions of it:


    Native Voices at the Autry Presents the 20th Anniversary Production Off the Rails by Randy ReinholzContinuing its role as the only Equity theatre company dedicated to developing new work by Native American artists, Native Voices at the Autry presents its most ambitious production to date, Off the Rails by Randy Reinholz (Choctaw*). A bawdy and irreverent adaptation of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure set in Buffalo Bill's Wild West, the production is presented as part of Native Voices at the Autry's 2014–2015 season, themed “Legacy and Loss: Stories From the Indian Boarding School.”

    “In Off the Rails I’ve relocated Shakespeare’s conflicts to the American frontier. We see love, righteousness, faith, and mercy compete for provenance in the foundation of a country. Adapting Shakespeare for a Native theatre company provides the structure and historical distance needed to explore why so much of the Native American story is missing from U.S. history,” said Reinholz, Native Voices Producing Artistic Director. “A key issue in Indian country today is the contradictory legacy and cultural damage of the American Indian boarding school system, whose motto was 'Kill the Indian, Save the Man.' In a moment in time when many Americans were advocating for the physical extermination of the remaining 218,000 American Indians it might seem that cultural genocide was the more benevolent choice. Important? Yes. Heavy? Not in this production. Think Blazing Saddles meets Shakespeare—with Native Americans taking the reins.”

    Set in the nineteenth century in Genoa, Nebraska, Off the Rails focuses on Momaday (Shaun Taylor-Corbett), a young boarding school student who has been sentenced to death for impregnating an Irish girl. Brothel owner Madame Overdone (Shyla Marlin), her working girls, and saloon patrons hatch a plot to rescue Momaday. Key to his salvation is his older sister Isabel (Elizabeth Frances), a graduate of a boarding school. To save her brother, Isabel must win the affections of Captain Angelo (Michael Matthys), the new superintendent of the school. Angelo’s Victorian rules for life are threatened by his primal lust when the women in town combine forces to challenge his brief authority and save Momaday.

    Off the Rails tackles the controversial and rarely discussed topic of Indian boarding schools. Typically absent from our nation’s history books, schools affected generations of Native Americans in unimaginable ways. Culture and identities were stripped, languages lost, lifelong friends were made, and unions were strengthened. Off the Rails dramatizes the polarizing national tensions in an audience-friendly way by combining knee-slapping comedy, vibrant music, and a set that transports theatregoers to 1886.


    INTERVIEW: Reinholz sheds light on American Indian boarding schools in new play

    By John SoltesOff the Rails is a learning process even for the actors on stage. Reinholz said they walk away with “empowerment,” particularly for the native actors. Off the Rails is the capstone of an entire year where Native Voices attempted to understand the boarding school system and its implications.

    “I think it’s really good for people who are activists to strongly consider how people can hear information, and again this play airs on the side of entertainment,” Reinholz said. “So you’ve got a lot of people thinking about, well, this stew is the United States and how we came together. For me, it’s not so much the horror of having killed all those people and the very frank discussion to kill the rest of them. I think it’s a miracle that we didn’t kill them all as a country. I just think, wow, there’s something to celebrate in that.”

    The playwright said the adaptation, which is gaining interest from major theater companies, is approximately 20 percent Shakespeare and 80 percent invention.

    “It’s not all in iambic [pentameter] because Shakespeare’s characters are all speaking in prose, particularly the clowns and in the bawdy scenes,” he said. “So that all feels like regular prose, but there are Shakespeare themes woven into much of the play. So the kids coopt lines from Romeo & Juliet, the young lovers. The woman who’s running the bar compares herself to Gertrude in Hamlet, so there’s all these coopting of lines. And that really comes from a very Deadwood kind of approach to the work. These people, their aspirational literature in the Old West would have been the King James Bible and a Collected Works of Shakespeare, so they would have been imitating those speech patterns.”

    After raising enough funds for the Native Voices production—a campaign that included $20,000 in donations through Indiegogo—Reinholz said he’s hopeful the play will live on. “That was really our hope is to make something that colleges could look at and think about using it as a teaching tool, both to teach the history and the language and the performance value,” he said. “It just seems to be resonating. It’s because of this company that’s really supported the whole project from the beginning and really just threw themselves into it.”
    The Autry offers a Native American perspective on Shakespeare with ‘Off The Rails’

    Randy Reinholz is the writer and director of "Off The Rails," which will be presented as part of the Native Voices Series at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles Feb. 25-March 15.

    By Michelle Mills
    Reinholz, a Chula Vista resident who is also an administrator at San Diego State University, has directed more than 50 plays in the United States, Canada and Australia. Of Choctaw ancestry, he is focusing on raising awareness of the Native American experience. He also seeks to open eyes to the versatility of Native Americans, especially on stage.

    “Native Americans have often been called invisible in American theater,” Reinholz said. “Doing something muscular with Shakespeare is a high bar in the theater world. So the idea that, can Indians really handle language?—well, here we’re going to show you, can Indians really do something with a classic?”

    Presenting a great play, Reinholz said, shows that Native Americans—or anyone—can think in many different ways.
    And:“What Native Voices is great about is having contemporary Native playwrights speak about who we are as Native people today, whereas I think what TV and movies are catching up to is the image that they portray.”

    In turn, Reinholz said that the Native Voices company is diverse, boasting 100 professional performers, many of whom are multiracial. “Off the Rails” alone has a cast that includes actors who are full-blooded Native American and of mixed European and Native American descent, as well as African-Americans, Chinese and Anglos.

    “It’s what the West might have looked like,” Reinholz said. “We tend to romanticize it and think of it as a rugged Anglo view, but there were Buffalo Soldiers out there, you had the immigrants and the indentured servants that were working on building railroads, you had former slaves. You had a really diverse mix-up and then you had the indigenous folks.”


    Autry’s “Off the Rails” Shakes Up the Old West

    By MarkOff the Rails delivers all this lightly and rapidly, with combustible humor. Led by veteran Ted Barton as the town’s absent eminence, and Shyla Martin as the bordello keeper, the cast carves out clear characters and delivers the lines—old and new—with unfailing energy and clarity.

    Christopher Salazar is especially strong as a wise aide, Román Zaragoza and Robert Vestal create a charming pair of scapegraces, and LeVance Tarver holds stage winningly as a chorus cowboy. Brian Joseph provides beautifully apt music. And of course Native Voices has Grandfather (Duane Minard) lending his dignity and blessing.

    At times, the exuberance runs a bit off the rails, with almost constant movement (note to director Chris Anthony: Still moments run deep) and some odd, unmotivated blocking. But that’s a small matter.

    Off the Rails gets the big things right. It’s colorful, lively and inventive theatre, and a bold satire our culture needs for healing. Grandfather Willie would be proud.
    This Play Uses Shakespeare to Examine Our Country's Persecution of Native Americans (Go!)

    By Deborah KlugmanIt's a lighthearted play with music, as opposed to a serious drama. But Off the Rails has plenty worthwhile to tell us about the cultural genocide perpetrated on Native Americans by a school system designed to indoctrinate and control. Under white governance, the community was ultimately fractured. We see this illustrated in the rift between Momaday and Isabel — one a traditionalist, the other a newly converted Christian.

    Though all the performances are capable, the best of them emerge from the supporting ensemble. Under Chris Anthony's direction, they include the versatile and very funny Barton, who, besides the pompous general, plays a mentally suspect French executioner; Christopher Salazar as a decent government official dismayed by Angelo’s doings; and Robert Vestal as Pryor, the smart-aleck who takes over the saloon and brothel after Angelo declares that women—in this case Madame Overdone—may no longer own a business.
    And a mini-review from Facebook:Awesome cast. Sold out show! Wonderful moments, comedic and in all seriousness--reflective of an infinitely different attitude toward Native Americans than today. Happily so:). Wonderful singing and instrument playing with old friend Duane Minard, beautiful Shyla Marlin, young talented man I met as an infant Roman Zaragoza, and one of my favs Robert Vestal as [a] major comedic character with a twist.

    So many beautifully talented actors I can't mention all of their merits--such a well written adaptation of Shakespere's Measure for Measure. I wish my Elders from local Pechanga and Soboba could see .... Hope you can experience this multi cultured play with a Native American theme.
    Photo credit: Craig Schwartz © 2015