Adam Sandler is in hot water right now, and hopefully, this particular issue will put the lack of proper representation for Native Americans in the spotlight.
Sandler’s upcoming Netflix film, Ridiculous Six, a spoof on The Magnificent Seven, has prompted about a dozen Native American actors (primarily Navajo) and the cultural adviser to walk off the set in anger. Indian Country Today Media News Network wrote that the actors and adviser left over the script being disrespectful to women, elders, and the Apache culture in general, not to mention the severe lack of actually using the cultural advise that was given to them.
So, let’s go down the reasons why the actors left.
• Stereotypical dress. Loren Anthony, one of the actors who walked off, said to ICTMN, “We were supposed to be Apache, but it was really stereotypical and we did not look Apache at all. We looked more like Comanche.”
If you look the pictures from Anthony’s Instagram account, you’ll see Sandler and the Native actors in what has become the stereotypical Hollywood Native American costume—a version of dress that Anthony stated was closer to “Comanche” than actual Apache dress. Secondly, Sandler is far from Native American. Seeing him in that costume harkens back exactly to the days of John Wayne westerns, and we really have to get past this. We’re in 2015 now. If we can have technology that can effectively create invisibility cloaks, then we can have proper representation for Native people.
• Offensive jokes. Anthony also said to ICTMN that the jokes were not just terrible, they were horrifying to the culture. “One thing that really offended a lot of people was that there was a female character called Beaver’s Breath,” he said. “One character says, ‘Hey, Beaver’s Breath.’ And the Native woman says, ‘How did you know my name?'”
• Tons of disrespect. Anthony also outlined how the film’s director effectively wrote them and their opinions off. “They just treated us as if we should just be on the side,” he said. “When we did speak with the main director, he was trying to say the disrespect was not intentional and this was a comedy.”
Even worse was when Allison Young, a former Darthmouth film student and one of the actors to leave, said that the director and producers treated the actors horribly. “We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’ I was just standing there and got emotional and teary-eyed. I didn’t want to cry but the feeling just came over me. Ths is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film lieke this should not make someone feel this way.”
I do have to say my favorite part of this whole story is 74-year-old David Hill, Choctaw, who is part of the American Indian Movement. He said he told the director that if the director had spoken to the Native women the way they were being spoken to in the film, “I would knock his ass out.”
I think that, even though stories of offensive stereotyping and treatment of Native Americans has been heard over and over again, I think this is the first time a story like this has been covered extensively by major entertainment news outlets like Entertainment Weekly, and our favorite, Deadline, Generally, stuff like this seems brushed under the rug. For instance, I don’t remember an extremely big to-do when intense criticism and anger came up about Disney’s Pocahontas. Granted, I was a kid in 1995. But even still today, the history of Pocahontas seems to be treated more as a “fun factoid” than an actual, legitimate concern that needs to be addressed.
Netflix is hoping this all blows over and state that they are sticking behind the film. A spokesperson told Entertainment Weekly:
The movie has ridiculous in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous. It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of-but in on-the joke.
This statement is very PR way of saying basically what the director is alleged to have said; if you’re too sensitive, leave the set or get with the program.
But, what I hope happens is that enough of outrage has been stirred up and that it stays in the news cycle just long enough that a big movement starts to finally, once and for all, start addressing the lack of proper, positive representation for Native Americans. As I wrote in my first “Battle of Diverse Pilots” article:
If there are no representative characters of a demographic, it’s an easy way to allow the potency of stereotypes to keep doing their horrible work. That could go into an article all by itself, but I think you get my drift. No education means no attempt to change thoughts about people.
The actors joined the project for whatever reason, whether that was to simply get paid acting the only way they felt was available to them, or, like Anthony, they were duped into believing the film would respect the culture, or like Young, to understand what stereotyping is like first-hand. But for whatever reason they signed up, I’m glad these dozen of actors and the adviser left and told the media about their experiences. Hopefully, their words will spark real change.
Picture of Loren Anthony from his Instagram page