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The Reason Adam Sandler’s Racist Depiction of Native American Women Matters


By Jacqueline Keeler

Last week, 12 Native American extras walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s new $80 million film “Ridiculous Six,” a comedy remake of the classic western “The Magnificent Seven.” These Native Americans took a stand and refused to participate in a film that denigrated American Indian women and featured Apache characters with names like “Beaver’s Breath” and “Wears-No-Bra.” Netflix, which is financing Sandler’s film defended the film in a public statement to the media saying, “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.”
But Navajo actress, Allison Young, did not feel “in on the joke.” She told MSNBC that her breaking point was “one instance where one of the Native American women, played by a white actress, is passed out on the ground and a group of white men are throwing liquor on her and she jumps up and starts dancing with everybody else.”

 Throughout American history, Native women have been characterized primarily by the
stereotypes of the “dirty Squaw” and the “Indian Princess”—both of whom are sexually available to white men. One as a beast of burden and the other to bestow legitimacy to colonists’ claims to the land. Sandler’s film not only plays heavily on the stereotypes of the “dirty Squaw” to score jokes but stages some of the most graphic scenes ever filmed sexualizing Native women and depicting Native culture as inherently low and dirty.

This can be seen in a two-year-old copy of the script leaked by Gawker, which features a scene where a naked Apache woman described as “Sexy Woman” displays herself to a couple of white men who make jokes about her. She is greeted as “Sits-On-Face” by Sandler’s character and then she squats and urinates on camera while smoking a “peace pipe.” According to a Native American extra who did not walk off the set, this scene was actually filmed.
A copy of an actual page from the shooting script was featured in Indian Country Today and the scene’s running joke was that Apaches do not know what toilet paper is and have to learn personal hygiene from the Americans. The opposite was, in fact, true as Native Americans were often noted by Europeans for their strange practices of bathing and unusually high levels of personal hygiene than was the rule at the time in Europe.

Keeler created this meme and posted it on Instagram
The promotion of these outdated stereotypes is particularly harmful considering a 2010 Department of Justice report that found Native American women have two and a half times the rate of rape and murder of any ethnic group of women in the country. And the report found that in nearly 70 percent of the assaults on Native women the assailants were white men. This is unusual. Most women in the United States are assaulted by men of their own race/ethnicity. If it were not for the additional assaults by white men, Native women’s rates of murder and rape would be closer to the average rate of other American women.

On many Native American reservations, gaps in jurisdiction mean no one is prosecuted for these assaults. A recent revision in the Violence Against Women’s Act (2013) expanded tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians for Domestic Violence offenses but the law is still only being implemented.

The promotion of these outdated stereotypes is particularly harmful considering Native American women have two and a half times the rate of rape and murder of any ethnic group of women in the country. ... in nearly 70 percent of the assaults on Native women the assailants were white men.
For many Native American women, the question is not if, but when women in their family will be raped. Lisa Brunner, an advocate for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in her community, the White Earth Nation in Minnesota, told The Guardian, “I call it hunting — non-natives come here hunting. They know they can come onto our lands and rape us with impunity because they know that we can’t touch them.” Tragically, her teenaged daughter was also gang-raped by four men from off the reservation before the new VAWA law was passed.

On her Facebook page, a former Miss Navajo Nation (and the first African- American/Navajo winner) wrote, “We have to control how we are satirized and make fun of ourselves. We need to stop allowing Hollywood to perpetuate unoriginal, antiquated, racist stereotypes that have long been used by media in general, or since the settlers first made contact with us ... As for Netflix defending Adam Sandler and his movie, this shows that they themselves care little about being original or creative when it concerns Indigenous people.”

Native Americans protested Sandler’s film and supported the 12 actors who walked via social media using hashtags like #WalkOffNetflix, #NotYourHollywoodIndian, #NotYourSquaw, and #CancelRacism.” Many canceled their Netflix accounts as well and signed Change.org petitions.

 When I was in college and studying film history, we studied the Comanche character “Look” from the “The Searchers.” The middle-aged “squaw” was the comic relief in an otherwise serious film. When she is kicked down the hill, John Wayne laughs. I found this photo of her from the film (see above) and as I looked into her face and I see the serious and proud faces of the Navajo grandmothers behind her, dressed much like my grandmother did, their skin darkened from years of caring for their herds of sheep and cattle and for their families. I see the confidence these Native women possess and strength. All of which is missing in Sandler’s script. Someday, I hope to the world gets to see us as we really are, in all our complexity, lest we continue to be the butt of jokes in $80 million films.

Originally published in ScenariosUSA
Jacqueline Keeler
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