November 27, 2015

Criticism of Saints & Strangers

Saints & Strangers, the two-night National Geographic movie that aired last weekend, got a decent amount of publicity. Many noted how it presented the Native side of the "first Thanksgiving." But not everyone was happy with how it portrayed Indians.

How ‘Saints & Strangers’ Got It Wrong: A Wampanoag Primer

By Alysa LandryLess than 60 seconds into the film, a band of whooping Natives descends on the pilgrims and the two groups exchange fire—bullets from one side and arrows from the other. The scene exhibits many of what the four Wampanoag tribal communities are calling “cultural, historical and linguistic inaccuracies” in the film.

“It’s completely irresponsible telling of history,” said Linda Coombs, director of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Cultural Center. “This is one of the most well-documented parts of history, but it is distorted for the purposes of sensationalism.”
And:At another point in the film, the Wampanoag deliver to colonists the bloodied clothes of a child who had been lost, intimating that they had killed the boy because pilgrims had stolen their corn. That is grossly untrue, Coombs said.

“That’s an outright lie,” she said. “The Wampanoag took care of the lost child. When they returned him, he was happy and healthy and probably bedecked with beads. There’s nothing in history about knocking the kid on the head and bringing the bloody shirt to the colonists.”
And:[S]traying from the Wampanoag language proved to be Nat Geo’s biggest film gaffe, Coombs said.

“Abenaki is not Wampanoag,” she said. “This is the stereotype of the interchangeable Indian. If you can’t find an Indian who does what you want, keep going until you find one who will. It doesn’t matter. Indians are generic.”
Positive views

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Native actors defended the production.

“The Experience Was Incredible!” Kalani Queypo on NatGeo’s Saints & Strangers

By Vincent SchillingThere has been some criticisms of the film, but what do you think people are neglecting to notice in the face of making progress for Native actors?

: The history of the portrayals of Native people in cinema is terrible, there have been gross misrepresentations, often times romanticized and fictionalized caricatures, that have been perpetuated and accepted as truth by the mass public. But more and more, native filmmakers are coming up and telling their stories. Even non-native filmmakers are rising to the challenge and making efforts to explore Native characters and storylines with truth and integrity. That is progress.

Having strong Native actors who are bringing rich portrayals to their roles is progress. Seeing more Native language being utilized in film is progress. Progress is always happening. It may seem like it is never enough, but portrayals of Native people in film have advanced.
“It Was Once in a Lifetime” Tatanka Means on NatGeo’s Saints & Strangers

By Vincent SchillingThere has been some criticisms of the film, but what do you think people are neglecting to notice in the face of making progress for Native actors?

: This story has never been told on screen before. It is a hard story to tell. It is a sensitive subject matter and time in our history. I don't think any film based on our history will ever be as perfect as we would like unless tribal nations write and produce it ourselves. I believe the world deserves to know more of the truth of what really happened. This movie is exposing some of those truths in a more gritty and less fabricated way than ever before on screen.
“It Was a Gift” Native Actor Raoul Trujillo on NatGeo’s Saints & Strangers

By Vincent SchillingThere have been a lot of positive comments on social media--how does it feel to represent on such a large scale?

: It's very powerful and something that makes you feel proud to represent culture and language of other people's but also to bring a humanity and multi dimensionality to historic real human beings as iconic as they are to us now.
‘Saints & Strangers’ Review: Close Enough is Great

Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Wampanoag Side of Thanksgiving.

No comments: