A student talks about Native American representation in the media
Coming from an indigenous background, seeing indigenous people on the big screen is very important. Seeing someone who looks similar to me and my family has always made me feel good about myself.
I personally have never seen an indigenous woman lead on-screen who hasn’t been sexualized or exoticized. Unless you count the Disney movie “Moana”, but we’re not talking about animated films here. Not only that, but many times I’ve watched a movie or a TV show that is supposed to star a Native American lead, and instead just goes with a white person.
One example is when in the Netflix series “Unbreakable” Kimmy Schmidt decided to do a spin-off movie of one of their characters, Jacqueline. She is supposed to be a Lakota woman, navigating her relationships with her family and her tribe. And, of course, Jacqueline is a white, blonde woman.
Instead of going out of their way to find an actual indigenous woman to portray an indigenous woman, the producers went with a white woman. Not only is this lazy, but it is incredibly problematic.
It has been terribly disappointing finding out that there is little to no indigenous woman in media, especially movies and TV shows. Though there has been one promising show that has just aired.
On April 26, Netflix released “Chambers” which stars an Apache and Puerto Rican actress, Sivan Alyra Rose. Not only this, but in the show, Rose is represented as… normal. Of course, the show is a sci-fi horror series, but aside from that, Rose is a normal, 17-year-old girl living with her uncle who owns a fish shop. She has a boyfriend, who is also Native American, and a best friend who is played by Kyanna Simone Simpson.
Rose plays Sasha who is a young Navajo girl. She gets possessed by the ghost of a girl who died by an accident and must find out how to exorcise herself.
Throughout this horror story, Sasha also struggles with her culture. Her uncle seems to have pushed away their family and distanced himself and Sasha from their heritage, which makes it hard for her to really connect with her boyfriend, who lives on a reservation and has a traditional Navajo family.
There is also a scene where Sasha takes out her mother’s traditional dress and wears it, saying that now she was going to be a real Navajo woman. She goes to a signing ceremony of her boyfriend’s, whose family looks down on her for not being more connected to her heritage, and it is there that she realizes all of them are wearing normal clothing. It is then that Sasha realizes how distant she is from this life that her uncle has kept her from
This struggle to find who she is, is a real thing that people of many different ethnicities experience. It is a real part of someone’s story. Sasha’s whole character is a real representation of a Native American woman.
She has real struggles, isn’t sexualized and had a totally normal life before whatever supernatural occurrence happened to her. It’s refreshing to see a real person represented, and not a caricature or a sex object.
Representing indigenous peoples, especially women is important. Rose herself said, “I hope it’s just a good spark of representation in the big pot of Hollywood.”
There isn’t enough representation of not only Native American stories, but also black, Asian, Latinx and so many more. These lives are not given a platform the same way white ones are. “Chambers” is a great stepping stone of hosting several indigenous characters and representing a true story of one, but there needs to be improvement.
There can always be improvement.
Header photo courtesy of the Associated Press.