“Turquoise Rose”...What Navajo Made that Movie?
Travis Hamilton isn’t Navajo—hell, he isn’t even Native. But audiences who’ve seen his film, even Navajo audiences, are leaving the theatre asking that very question.
Perhaps this explains the pleasure of watching his sweetly uncomplicated film with an all Navajo cast starring Natasha Kaye Johnson, Ethel Begay and Deshava Apachee.
The film succeeds, not so much because of the light script, but because Hamilton has the confidence to defer to the images of sandstone landscapes, dusty highways and most of all, to his actors. Together, they tell her story; no, let me rephrase that—they show the growth of the young woman rejoining her external and spiritual life.
She’s got the bug, she admits, but not just for acting. A former reporter for the Gallup Independent, Johnson recently moved to Phoenix to advance her journalism career while considering her options performing on the big screen.
“Right now I’m on that fence about what I want to do…acting or journalism? ...So far, though, it’s been frustrating. Some of the scripts I’ve been sent have been sooo stereotypical. I mean, are you serious?”
I look forward to seeing Turquoise Rose. But I'm still confused about what makes a "Native" movie Native. Turquoise Rose seems roughly analogous to Dances with Wolves--non-Native writer and director, largely Native cast. About Dances and other movies written by non-Natives, Carole Levine said that "no matter how good or lousy" they are, they "just can’t fake it." Yet Hamilton's work on Turquoise Rose suggests that a non-Native can do an acceptably "Native" movie. That non-Natives can indeed fake it.
So the basic question remains unanswered. Can a non-Native create a movie (or play, or novel, or comic book) that Native people would accept as "Native"? Or must a work of fiction be created by a Native to qualify as "Native"?