In this interview, Anthony details what the general feeling was on that particular day of filming and his personal feelings when it came to the absurdly offensive treatment of his people and culture, as reflected in the leaked script. I know there are those out there that have wanted to know how much the actors knew about the film before signing on; Anthony covered this and much more in our phone call, which you’ll read below.
How did you get involved with The Ridiculous Six?
I got hired on by a casting director. They were basically looking for people to be a part of the movie. Because I worked with this casting director before on other productions, when she asked me before, [she said]…it was Adam Sandler doing a comedy, it was going to be a Western here in New Mexico and he was looking for some people to be a part of it. That was basically it; there wasn’t much more than that.
The day in question—there have already been people who have talked about it and there’s now video of what happened, but in your words, what was that particular day like when everyone came to the producers?
I think there was a heaviness throughout the day. I know, for me, there was. That day, Wednesday, I really took some time to myself because we had a lot of downtime for most of the day; we were brought to the set in the morning and we didn’t do anything, really, for most of the day. We just kinda hang out and wait until we’re going to be ready to shoot because a lot of the main actors were doing their scenes so they didn’t need us at the time. We were just hanging out.
I really took some of that time to reflect on what happened the day before and what had happened on Monday and how I felt about everything. When things came together, it just all escalated for quite a few of us and I can’t speak for everybody, but there was that heaviness in our hearts to the point where we didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel right. I wasn’t going to be proud of it and I knew because of the things I do with my family, my youth work, the things that I talk about, they would totally contradict one another and the things that I stand for. It would make it seem like I’m okay with that type of thing.
That’s when it raised to a boiling point, when it came down to it. It just kind of just hit at one time for everybody, causing our cultural consultant to leave and then, you know, at the same time, we want[ed] to voice our concerns…about what we thought was wrong and things we thought were not appropriate or disrespectful.
What, to you, was the most offensive or hurtful part of the whole experience?
I can’t just pinpoint one thing. The media, right now, when this came out and people picking it up when it broke on Indian Country Today, a lot of people kind of just went with, like, “Everybody’s mad; these individuals are just upset because of two character names.” Those character names, they are offensive and disrespectful to women, but there was a [plethora] of different things that were taking place that I just can’t pinpoint just one because it’s a majority of things.
Going from the representation of the costumes that we were told to wear, to the respect and the appropriate use of the feathers [which] were not used the right way, [and] looking at the tipis themselves and how they were misrepresented and how they had things on them that shouldn’t be on them. And the tipi part—a lot of our Native American people use those for cultural or spiritual, religious ceremonies. To desecrate that—that would be a big no-no in American society, if someone were to desecrate a regular church, like a Catholic Church or a mosque or Christian churches. You go to jail for that kind of stuff. So those things were violated.
You’re looking at things that we use for cultural purposes or have cultural meaning and value to them and are misrepresented and…were used as props and given to people or used on set as an idea that that’s how it works. Many of us didn’t say anything—we said things to ourselves and among each other, but we just kind of went with it. When it [came] to the costumes, we figured “It’s a Western. It’s part of the Hollywood stuff that’s been going on forever so I guess it’s okay.” We just kind of felt, “We’ll just roll with it.” But at the same time, it just didn’t feel right and as time went on with the stuff on set and the things that were going on in the scenes, with the dialogue.
[W]hen that came into play and the things that were going on, like a female urinating and using a peace pipe…there’s a lot of misunderstanding as to what the offense is and what’s not, what’s disrespectful and what’s not with Western society and not seeing that we really value our women. We have ceremonies for the coming of age for a female. When she becomes a woman, there’s a certain ceremony that’s done for females to say she is special, she should be honored, she should be sacred. Those types of things aren’t seen, and when [the scenes and dialogue] are taking place, that’s disrespectful to our mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, people who should be taken care of and protected.
So [with] the names of the characters…like “Sits-On-Face” and “Beaver Breath” and “Wears-No-Bra,” these may seem harmless to them [the filmmakers], but they don’t realize that our Native people are struggling with a lot of healing with historical trauma that has gone throughout the years…that makes self-esteem among our youth and our people very low, to where we have the highest suicide rates in the country. Our women are more likely to get involved in some kind of sexual assault and rape and murdered.These things are real to us and people don’t understand. They’re missing the point. They’re just focused on those…character names, saying, “They’re not getting the joke or we’re not in the joke,” and that’s true. We’re weren’t in the joke.
When we got hired on, they didn’t give us those scripts, they didn’t have a sit down…and tell us what’s going on. It was just a play-out of different things that went on and we found out. We found out what the dialogue was about. So, it’s not just one thing. I can’t just pinpoint one thing. it’s a number of things. It’s tearing apart who I am as an individual and what I believe in as far as my culture and heritage and traditional values and my [religious practices] and spirituality. So, when you tear a person down, and tear a bunch of others…down as a people, it’s not funny. It’s not comedy. You’re ostracizing one person or a group, and it’s not comedy. It’s not even satire. Satire is supposed to bring out the prejudice in things. This just brought out [the opposite].
When I read the leaked page, I was blown away by how awful it was. I thought I’d read some awful stuff, but personally speaking, I don’t even know how it’s considered comedy. I wouldn’t go pay to see that in a movie theater. It was the worst thing I’d read in a long time. And to go back to what you were saying, the jokes really aren’t funny because they do play on stereotypes that play out in crimes against Native Americans. Like, the female character named “Smoking Fox,” that goes back to the sexual stereotype of Native American women, which relates back to the fact that, sadly, they are targeted in these sexual assault and rape crimes. That was one of the things I found totally tone deaf.
The other thing you said about them expecting you to go with the joke, to roll with it, it seemed like that was the pervasive tone of what the producer said in the video and what Netflix said, that the film is supposed to be ridiculous, etc. What do you think about Netflix’s response and the response in general from people working on the movie to how you guys responded to the offensive material?
You know, it goes back to that word “satire.” They’re hiding behind the word “comedy.” They’re hiding behind the words “It’s just a joke” or “It’s just names.” It’s not okay to tear somebody down and then say, “It’s just a joke,” especially when you’re disrespecting not only Native people, but you’re looking at sexism and tearing down a whole world of women. We have Mother Earth. It’s our mother. We should take care of our women and not put women down.
When it comes to Netflix saying the satire part, satire is all about bringing out prejudice. If you were to do Blazing Saddles today, it would not fly. It would not work. Even Mel Brooks has said that. For them to say that everyone’s in the joke—that’s the thing everyone’s asking, if we knew it was going to be a satire—the thing is that nobody said it was going to be a satire.
When we talked to the directors, they said it was going to be respectful to Native Americans, it was going to be funny and tasteful comedy. For me, I’m all about comedy, and Native people are all about laughing and having a good time. But when it came down to all the things I was talking about, tearing down a whole group of people, [then] we’re not in the joke. If we were told prior that this is what was going to be happening, then definitely, I would have stepped out. But once I found out what was going on and had an idea of what the dialogue and characters’s names were, I knew at that point that I’m not going to be proud of this.
It hurt me. I probably went [through], like, four days of stomach-turning and heartbreaking feelings. It was just bad. I had to make that decision. That’s what I thought the whole day; if I go, am I going to be work? If I go, am I going to be blackballed? If I go, what are people going to say about my career from there? I just had to put a lot on the line and say my dignity is not for sale and have more respect for myself and my people. If it is that way [that something happens], so be it, but I feel really good about this decision I made. I can sleep, I don’t have to feel guilty about staying on and having my kids and future generations say “Loren didn’t stand up,” but I did, and I never thought it’d get to this level, honestly. People keep telling me to just get over it, but you wouldn’t tell a veteran that [laughs]. People just don’t see why it’s so hurtful and what’s going on…It hit the world so hard that the whole world is listening now.
I just wish there was more awareness like this for a lot of issues in Indian country, because there’s so many things. There are people living in poverty…missing women, the sexual assault of our Native women, the high rates of suicide. These are caused from low self-esteem and our people not having an identity anymore and people having an assumption that this is how Natives are.
I’ve experienced that first-hand; I travel around the country and people ask me what nationality I am and I tell them I’m Native American. They sometimes question me and say, “Really?” because they have this assumption that Native American’s don’t exist anymore or that we still live in tipis or walk around shirtless with our hair down and that we can turn into werewolves [laughs]. So the stereotypes continue. In the film, they had a character who was portrayed as a Native American woman, who was on the ground, passed out, and they through alcohol on her to wake her up so she could start dancing again [sic]. What kind of messages does that send to people? Not only for our Native people, but for everybody? That’s not comedy.
With that joke, to me, it shows that they knew what they were doing when they wrote it. Why would you make that a “joke”—
—and then say “It’s just a joke! We’re making fun!” No! You already know that’s a stereotype.
Exactly. When we talked to the producers and director about it, even in the video, they’re like, “If you’re so sensitive, why don’t you just leave?” But not only that, they weren’t willing to change anything. They were able to say “We didn’t mean it to be disrespectful,” but now they know…but yet they’re going to do it anyway.
For us to go through that, it was very heartbreaking. It was like going back in time, then and there, with the costumes on, and we’re talking to a different ethnicity, and they’re trying to show their dominance and oppress us and tell us how we should live and how the rules are going to be. It was just ironic that we’re still living this way in 2015.
When I tried to personalize it with one of the producers, who is an older female, I just assumed that maybe she had a grandkid and used it as an example. She was talking to our elders there that were on set. For them, they’ve never seen an Adam Sandler film. They were just there because they needed work, just like everybody else because on the reservation, there aren’t any jobs at all. For them to be there, they’re excited because there’s big names there and…they see that glitz and glamour and maybe hope to get more work and try to be a part of that[.]
[The producers talked] to our women elders and said [that] there’s stuff about the dialogue about the women…it’s just all fun, it’s in the movie, it’s pretend, it’s okay, it’s just a joke. So I personalized it for [the female producer] and said, “If your granddaughter came home crying to you saying some kids at school called [her] ‘Sits-On-Face’ or ‘Beaver Breath’ or ‘Wears-No-Bra,’ how are you going to handle that? Would it be funny to you?” She said, “No, I wouldn’t think it’s funny.” And I said, “Why would you think it’s funny now and why it would be okay?” She didn’t have any answer. It’s when you personalize it , and that’s why it hurts. You’re tearing away at a person and their beliefs and who they are.
Along with Netflix saying what they said, several outlets have tried contacting Adam Sandler’s camp [Happy Gilmore], but they haven’t gotten a response. What do you think about the fact that on one side, there’s Netflix’s response, and on the other, there’s no response from the Happy Gilmore camp?
There’s the whole media game and there’s the political game and the business game. So they’re looking out for their best interests. A lot of time when issues come up, especially with Native American [issues], there are stories that need more attention, like the 57 kids who got alcohol poured on them because of a racial thing that was going on. That deserves attention too, but it doesn’t and that happened at the same time. The same week. But there was nothing but a little article and that’s it.
When the [Ridiculous Six] story broke through Indian Country Today, it was more like, we need to take care of this story, we need to get it out, so that’s how it came [out], but this time around, [the filmmakers] weren’t expecting a script to come out. They weren’t expecting a video to come out. So they’re [taking] time to think and figure out what to do. I think that’s why they’re not responding. But I hope to hear from them and that there can be some sort of resolution because there are ways to be funny. There are ways to be funny without tearing people apart.
Like I was saying, Native people love to laugh. We love to joke around. There are ways to be super funny, using satire, without disrespecting people. It can be done, but I’m not sure if there will ever be an apology because [to] people in that ring of the industry or even politicians, the word “I’m sorry” doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary. Or “I’m wrong.” It’s more about “We’re losing money, we need to make money.” We’re all taught…to respect people’s beliefs and I think they forgot about that.
What do you hope people can learn from all this?
I think…that we need to know that we’re all human beings and that we should respect each other as human beings and see each other as people and not as commodities [or] money. We need to come together as people and unite, not only just Natives, but everybody. We need to search for healing and do things positively [and] if we could change that mindset of the negativity. That’s the purpose of speaking out…hopefully there can be some change because if there’s not, then this whole thing can continue. It’s just going to keep on going.
No one’s ever said “No” in the movie industry about this and I think that’s why it impacted the media world so much. Our issues have been long forgotten, to me it seems that way, but now they’re rising and…people are coming together and speaking out again, saying that this is wrong. We need to come together and start doing things positively and negatively. Those riots in Baltimore—it’s a sad situation. People are not getting the idea again…you see it in that situation, too. There are so many people [who are] just oppressed and looking for healing, and just a simple “I’m sorry” could just do wonders for people. There are generations of people hurting.
I do want to say that y’all speaking out—I had read that you started getting death threats and awful things like that—
—For me, y’all walking off set is a form of being an activist, so congratulations to all of y’all for doing that and I’m glad that you did that because, like you said, you have to stand up for your beliefs and people and culture. It’s like the saying “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I’m proud.
I appreciate it, thank you. It does mean a lot because there is a lot of negativity out there and it gets to you now and then. But you gotta think about the bigger picture. You think about the bigger purpose. Things just fall into place, somehow. We’re given opportunities and we have to choice to take or not take them. With this, I feel it’s a blessing. I didn’t ask for it, it just happened. It was me…and the rest of us speaking from our minds and our hearts.
It’s not about the money; we’re denying all money. We’re picking and choosing with these interviews…we want to keep this positive and that a story of positivity goes out there, just to be a caretaker, just like how a lot of us Natives are caretakers of our land, our people, our elders and our women. So right now, it’s just protecting what’s going on right now and making sure awareness goes out and using this time that the world is listening now to see if we can do some change and some good.
Anthony on The Ridiculous Six set with Saginaw Grant. Also pictured: Anthony on set holding what looks like a tomahawk with Nick Nolte in the background. Courtesy Anthony via Instagram.