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When a Film Shows the Truth

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Some of the students in my editing class go to the movies together every other week or so. Afterwards, we sit around and dissect whatever we saw: if there were plot holes, scenes we would have shot differently, the pacing, things like that. It can be really helpful to talk about this stuff after having just seen it: we can talk about concepts in class, and we can try them ourselves, but seeing it on a huge screen in a crowded theater reminds you that there is a final product that real people pay actual money to see.

We went to see Wind River recently. If you’ve never seen or heard of it, it is a movie about a man who works for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He’s out on reservation land (and it is based on a real reservation) and finds the dead body of a Native American woman. The movie spirals downward from there. It is one of those movies that was a real heartbreaker of an ending – and you know it will by the way things happen throughout the movie, but you can’t help but feeling that way at the end anyway.

Two things stood out to me, while I’d say only one stood out to my classmates.

First, I’ll go with the obvious one: the film is based on a real incident, and it helped to shed light on some of the ways that Native American Reservations are a tough place to live. They are not designed for its people to live a respected, autonomous life. It is, in no way, separate but equal to the way other American citizens are protected. Back in the 70s, a non-Suquamish man living on a Suquamish reservation, was arrested and charged with a crime. To make a long, disturbing story short, this man claimed that he wasn’t subject to tribal law because he wasn’t a member of the tribe. And the Supreme Court agreed with him. Let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine that as a rule anywhere else? Say your parents are hit and killed by a drunk driver, but the person who hit them lives in another state – they get away with the crime because the police who arrested him aren’t from his state. Do you hear how crazy that sounds? Anyway, the movie brought up the disgusting fact that federal agents have to get involved and that many people get away with doing horrible things to Native Americans on their own reservations. It is appalling, and it was good to see so many of my classmates get an idea of how awful it is.

The other thing, and this was something that I noticed that they might not have (because nobody brought it up), was toward the end. One of the older members of the tribe is sitting outside with paint on his face. He calls it a “death mask” and the main character asks him about it. The man replies that he doesn’t know if he did it right, because there is nobody left to teach him. That part hurt my heart so much. I think of the pride and culture that my people had, that has been slowly stripped away and died with our elders.

That’s why I think what I am doing is so important. I need to preserve our stories, show our people, and continue our culture.