May 13, 2015

Native filmmakers criticize Netflix boycott

More on Netflix's deal with Adam Sandler the racist:

Netflix giving Adam Sandler creative control is totally backfiring

By Yohana DestaWhen Netflix originally signed the Sandler deal, many film fans were left scratching their heads. But from a purely financial standpoint, it makes sense: In its original announcement, Netflix stated that Sandler films have grossed more than $3 billion globally. And in a rare moment of candor about its viewers' habits, Netflix disclosed that Sandler films are among its top streaming performers.

Sandler is arguably the most financially successful talent the streaming company has pulled into its originals fold, and will reap his piece whether the films perform or not—not that we'll ever know, since Netflix doesn't share viewership numbers—as the company will continue to foot the $40-$80 million budgets to which he's accustomed. And the fact that he co-wrote the Ridiculous Six script makes it clear that he doesn't mind being labeled a bigot.

This is where a traditional Hollywood studio—like Sony, where Sandler still has made most of his pictures and still has a deal—would normally step in. But Netflix isn't a traditional Hollywood studio; they've navigated original TV content, but don't have experience wrangling a movie player of Sandler's power and lightning-rod nature.

The minute Sandler got complete control of a project, it became clear that he needs someone to save him from himself. Without a suite of seasoned, strong-willed executives to have a hand on the reins, Netflix has allowed him to cross the line in a way he never did—or possibly even could—before.

Sandler is using his highly visible platform to degrade and objectify an entire subset of people who have historically been degraded and objectified—a blow to Netflix's creative, high-quality content streak. Maybe Sandler doesn't care about being labeled, but that's a label Netflix doesn't want.
Fueled by Adam Sandler Fiasco, Navajo Woman Protests Script’s Stereotypes

Allie Young says movies like ‘The Ridiculous Six’ can have damaging effects on a community struggling with identity issues.

By Jennifer Swann
It remains to be seen whether the walk-off, a slew of bad press, and a petition backed by nearly 100,000 will have any impact on the release of The Ridiculous Six, which is being produced not by a traditional studio system but by Netflix, a streaming service that relies more on subscribers than on ratings.

The number of actors who stormed off the set was tiny compared with the number of Native Americans who continued working, opting for a paycheck rather than a protest. But Young says the attention to the issue is unprecedented, even if the industry is slow to change. The New York Times weighed in last week with a story about the Hollywood biases faced by Native American actors, including Tantoo Cardinal, a Canadian indigenous actor who appeared in Dances With Wolves.

“Never in history have you heard of a group of Native Americans taking a stand like this,” Young says. “So I’m proud of that. I’m happy to see that there are more actors who do have a voice, like [Native Canadian actor] Adam Beach, who are coming forward in support of the whole controversy.”
Boycott a bad idea?

I haven't heard anything more about a boycott of Netflix beyond the initial proposal. As far as I can tell, no one's participating in it. But some people are still talking about it as if it's a thing.

Anti-Netflix Campaign Is 'Drowning Native Voices' Says Native Director

By Wilhelm MurgFilmmakers Brian Young and Sterlin Harjo have come out against the #WalkOffNetflix campaign because of the Native American films available on the service. Is that your main complaint?

Here’s the thing: nobody has seen Rhymes for Young Ghouls, right? You would have to have had your ear on the ground to have heard about it, and that’s true of a lot of Native directors' films. You have the ability to make films fairly cheaply, and you’re getting a market that is flooded with bullshit, frankly. Professional filmmakers have to battle for that position with amateurs and nobody’s interested in Native-told stories per se. Smoke Signals was 17 years ago, and everybody’s been waiting for that next watershed film that was going to break it all open for Native cinema and it just hasn’t happened yet. It’s because the avenues aren’t there in terms of distribution. At the end of the day Hollywood is about making money, so if you want to be a filmmaker you need to make money. They don’t qualify you by ethnicity, they just want to know if you are making good films, and that was our goal; we wanted to make a good film, but try to sneak in the content; providing a message wrapped up in an entertainment vehicle.

So if you’re rolling back about 100 years of representation in cinema, it’s not going to happen with 1 or 2 films. You’re going to have to get 40 or 50 films before you can start talking about Native Cinema as a genre. The problem with #WalkOffNetflix is that it is inadvertently suppressing those voices with good intentions, but the last I heard, the road to hell was paved with them.

So that was my main beef with it: you’re drowning our ethnic voices because of this idiot.
Barnaby somehow thinks a small protest, rather than Netflix's bottom line, is going to dampen the market for Native films. Sterlin Harjo also criticizes the protest, but rightly places most of the blame on Netflix.

Ridiculous Netflix: Sterlin Harjo Discusses Netflix and Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six

By Lauren WissotFilmmaker: As someone not of Native American descent I was pretty appalled by Netflix’s lackluster, “broad satire” defense. I mean, if this was Adam Sandler “satirizing” blacks I’m sure Spike Lee, along with many other African-American filmmakers, would be calling for a boycott of the streaming site. But you’ve personally come out against the recent #WalkOffNetflix campaign that the controversy inspired. Can you explain your reasoning? And if canceling Netflix subscriptions isn’t the best response, what is?

Harjo: We were all appalled by the treatment of Native characters, as well as by Netflix’s response. The problem is deeper than Netflix. I’m sure that the executives in charge of Netflix’s original programming didn’t have Native people in their best interest when they green-lit this project. I knew months before that the film was coming down the pipe because the lead actor of my film Barking Water, Richard Ray Whitman, told me he turned it down. He said it was racist and sexist. He even brought it up to the casting director–but one actor in protest isn’t going to stop the millions of dollars behind a film like this. A few people canceling their Netflix subscription isn’t going to stop it. What is going to stop it is when all of our actors turn down roles like this, as Whitman did. It’s going to stop when more Native filmmakers are supported to create their own visions. Supporting Native filmmakers will help peel back the decades of misrepresentation of Native people. Netflix can’t stop it. Only we can. We have that power, but we need support.

Right now, in America, Native filmmakers are on the outskirts of the outskirts–it’s true independent cinema. Studios won’t touch us. Indians in buckskin and feathers is the only way studios want to see us because it fits their narrative. They don’t want to see the truth. We have to roll up our sleeves and keep creating truth. We have to keep creating films, and seeing our visions to the screen. One of the few screens where we can show our work is on Netflix. There are great Native and indigenous films on Netflix. Filmmakers like Taika Waititi, Sydney Freeland, Jeff Barnaby, Neil Diamond, and Heather Rae have blocked out a small section on Netflix. Our films have reached a lot of people, including non-Indians, because of Netflix. If Native people walk away from the site then we are losing some of our audience. It could have the opposite effect, of making Netflix decide not to acquire films like mine. We have to create our own content–and we need every place that is willing to show that content.
Comment:  For more on Adam Sandler, see Natives to Hollywood: Stop Stereotyping and Ricky Lee Defends Ridiculous 6.

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