Growing up, I was mostly around people that looked like me. The people on television and in movies, on the other hand, didn’t look anything like me at all. When I was younger, I would ask my parents why this was and they never really had a good answer. They certainly weren’t going to get into much detail about discrimination and oppression and all that with a six-year-old, so they explained it the best way they could and hoped it would satisfy me for a few years.
The question never really went away. I wanted someone, anyone – it didn’t have to be the main character even, a kid at school or a neighbor would be fine – to have the same straight dark hair and darker skin that I did. But there rarely was, and when there were Native American characters, they were hardly recognizable to me. They were often stereotypes that I didn’t understand when I was younger because they weren’t anyone I knew or could identify with. They might as well have been a completely different species for all the good it did me and my people.
As I got older and started paying even closer attention, I realized this wasn’t just a Native American problem. This was also a female problem. Actors could get meaty roles long into their silver years, while females were sent to plastic surgeons or risk being put out to pasture the moment they got crow’s feet – or were regulated to grandma roles when they were often much younger than their male costars. There were also so many movies glorifying the idiotic man-child and making villains out of strong, opinionated, career- or academic- minded women. And that’s not even mentioning the double standards in wardrobe! Men could be wearing three-piece suits and look sexy, but if a woman wasn’t bearing tons of skin, she was usually an uptight, repressed, lonely shrew of a person.
It was both eye-opening and frustrating. It was also a big part of why I decided on this career path, to be honest. If I want to see more people who look like me onscreen, and I want to see more people who act like me and have similar experiences, then I have to be willing to do something about it.
At first, I figured my best route would be to be a screenwriter. I could create believable characters that I would be proud to see on screen. But there were two problems: 1) once I turned over the script, there was nothing stopping the producers, casting people, and director from changing things however they saw fit. And 2) I wasn’t all that great at writing scripts. I just don’t have the talent for it.
I didn’t want to give up on my dream of making films that better represented my gender and my culture, however. I decided that I needed to be someone with a real say in the final outcome. That’s when I set my sights on becoming a director, and I haven’t looked back since.