March 08, 2007

Native Men in Trees

Remember last fall how I said there were hardly any Natives on the new TV shows? And how I pointed to Men in Trees as a show that should have had Natives but didn't? Well, I saw a repeat of the second episode of Men in Trees recently, and it had a brief scene featuring a Native.

In it, Sara the town prostitute takes Marin to a sweat lodge. A Native appears and complains about the power failure Marin caused. "It was movie night on the reservation," he says. When Marin tries to respond, he says she has to hold the talking stick. Then he tells her to throw tobacco on the hot rocks and burn it.

Over in, "Liaison" offered the following comment on this episode:Men in Trees had a realistic, albeit brief scene in a sweat lodge on a recent episode. It was one of the best portrayals I have seen of "real" Indians in a long time. If they could only do a whole show based upon such "realness." Comment:  C'mon, Liaison. You consider this real? A clichéd sweat Alaska? There's only one reservation on Alaska and it's on an island, so it isn't near Elmo. This show's take on Alaskan Native life isn't impressive.

Someone else claimed Sara is supposed to be Native, which would make her a major Native character. Uh, no, I don't think so. The actress who plays Sara is Suleka Mathew, who's from India. Sara could be an Asian Indian or maybe a Latina, but I haven't heard any claims about her ethnicity on the show. She isn't a Native just because she visited a sweat lodge. She isn't a Native unless the show declares her one.

The "realest" TV depiction of Indians that I've seen in the last year was on Law and Order: Criminal Intent last April. The depiction in Men in Trees was briefer than the ones in Numb3rs and Veronica Mars and no more realistic. Let's not promote these token appearances as if they're anything but tokens, people.

Liaison also said:Show me a comedy about modern Native life and I’ll show you a hit. Maybe throw in an episode where the NDN kid raised by educated Native parents or at least one Native Parent and maybe one White or Black parent, living in the burbs who goes to spend a summer with Grandma on the Rez. Show his or her first encounter with a 49 after the local Pow wow and the "cultural shock" the kid goes through. Teach America about real Native people, their lives, their own special brand of humor and their issues while giving us a laugh or two. Throw in some known as well as up and coming Native talent in both lead and supporting roles and you could have a winner.In contrast to Liaison's views on Men in Trees, we can support these views. Realistic Native TV shows...right on!


Rob said...

That sounds somewhat like the theme of PEACE PARTY. Which also bombed in the ratings (sales) category. But PEACE PARTY will be back in a year or so and we'll try the urban/rez theme again.

Rob said...

Not on TV, obviously. But my point that a work with a similar theme produced similar results is germane to this posting.