Month: March 2018

The Importance of Accurate Representation

There are many things that we think we know about cultures that are not our own. One of the main places we get these assumptions from is the entertainment business. It doesn’t matter if the material they are putting out there is patently false or disrespectful, or if there is any context to the culture they are portraying. As a result, many people think they know and understand things when they really don’t.

I am not saying that it is done maliciously or with the intent to harm – at least, not most of the time. Things are changed for lots of reasons: convenience, out of ignorance, to make a joke, because of oversimplification, laziness, or simply a lack of understanding, to name a few. I’m not justifying anything, and I’m not giving anyone a free pass because they didn’t realize people would be offended. I also totally understand (coming from an ethnic group that is constantly misrepresented, for many reasons) and believe that these minority groups are justified in their anger, frustration, and humiliation when they see their culture abused in these ways.

I’d like to think that things are changing, even if it is only gradually. It has only been more recently that if a certain character has a specific ethnicity, that casting directors are actively trying to find someone fitting those criteria instead of just some popular actor that they feel will bring enough star power that nobody will care that the person is completely wrong for the role.

These things are changing not because Hollywood suddenly grew a conscious and is making more of an effort to find and promote minorities. No, things are changing because audiences want things to change and are using their power to show the entertainment industry so: they are speaking with their wallets. Things are changing because people want to see more diversity in their entertainment. This allows more people of color to tell their stories, get behind the camera, and for people who look like them to stand in front of it. This is such an important step to bringing a better representation of all cultures in this field. There is so much to learn from in a diverse culture, and the entertainment industry could set a gold standard for the rest of us to follow.

Now that people of different nationalities are appearing in worldwide releases, are participating in the writing, editing, and production process, we have the ability to tailor the story. We can correct fallacies, we can abolish stereotypes, we can shine a light on what makes our views so unique and worth paying attention to.

That only happens when we are portrayed and represented accurately. It needs to be authentic: in character, in dialogue, in experience and portrayal. That’s why I chose film as my area of study, and that’s why even on the hard days, on the days where I wonder if I will make anything at all of myself, I know that even if I don’t – I have to try. It’s not just me that succeeds if I do, it is all of my people.

One of Many Long Days on my Feet

Just because I am a student, don’t turn away from this blog! Young as I am, I have stories to tell. You will get insight into the mind of a Native American female who aspires to be in the entertainment industry. It is hard enough for women in general, if not for a minority. Like acting, behind-the-scenes jobs are a man’s world. We all know when women are behind the camera, because it is such a big deal.

Let me expose you to the trials and tribulations of my life, as short as it has been. I intend to make my way despite obstacles. So far, nothing has slowed me down. In fact, I am right where I want to be—in film school. I envision a career as a director and I expect the road to be open the entire way. I will make it happen and perhaps pave the way for others to enter the film and television field en masse.

I will do most anything to advance my career. I am always on time for class filming projects and often take the lead in their implementation. I stick it out on long days, even when I have to be on my feet for hours and I go home with aching appendages. But I have an answer for that! I bought a really good foot massager from this web site. Who doesn’t crave a good foot rub now and then? It is divine and revives my feet in an instant, but it is also a long-term investment in my career. When they show documentaries of film making, the director is on his feet yellow through a megaphone. Ha! He does have a “director’s chair” but it might well be for show.

There are few good films on Native Americans and even fewer TV shows. The stereotypes are rampant. Images of my ethnic roots are limited to westerns and cameo performances by famous actors like Rodney Arnold Grant, Russell Means, Wes Studi, Graham Greene, and many others. In the old days we had Jay Silverheels and Chief Thundercloud. The roles were sparse and mostly character parts. The best one I can think of is Will Sampson opposite Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He was more than memorable. Chief Dan George also stands out as does Lou Diamond Philips who is part Cherokee. He is one of my favorite actors. I see that my work is cut out for me if I want to give my ancestry a fair shake in the business.

So come on board with me as I pen my blog and clue you in on my progress. Meanwhile you will get all kin ds of interesting tidbits. You will soon get my opinion of Wind River with Jeremy Renner and Martin Sensmeier. It is about a white man on a Wyoming reservation who consoles an Arapaho tribal member who has learned that his sister has been murdered.  Stand by!

Set Construction on a Less-than-Indie Budget

I am a budding filmmaker with no budget. This is not a contradiction in terms. I find that you can do a lot if you are resourceful. You can beg, borrow or steal. Ha! No really, you can get most anything you need to make a student film. Just don’t plan your concept around a major set design. For my class, my friends and I have come up with a storyline that takes place in the present day in a local setting. This makes it easier from the get go. As for costumes, makeup, props, and the like, we ask everyone we know for help. Makeup doesn’t have to be new for example and every woman has extra. We have eschewed wigs so there is one thing to cross of our needs list.

People who know we are from a set design class are more than willing to let us film in and around their homes. If we want an unusual location, our status as students gains us entrée right away. Plus, when we need particular prop, we look around our houses for anything we can repurpose. We can paint or otherwise transform anything. Building your own sets is also easy when you have the knowhow. We have learned the art in class. You can make quite a good film with what is on hand.  We keep the camera angles simple and the dialogue pertinent. Telling a story is half the battle, but it has to look good as well.

We try to avoid the amateur look of most student films even though we use Super 8. After all, this is what fueled the independent film movement and it can’t be too mundane for us. You get sound from a little copper band along the edge. We don’t have the equipment yet to go beyond our modest means. However, we think we will succeed in making something pretty remarkable. An example of our creativity is the way we took an old trampoline and reused it in a new way in one scene. I got the idea from this blog post – We wanted to create an eerie mood as part of our story when one character appears unexpectedly in the background as if in a dream. We asked the “actor” (a student in disguise of course) to jump on the trampoline as a way of creating an otherworldly effect. The result was awesome since you didn’t see the device, only the character emerging into the dreamer’s consciousness. So effective!

There is nothing you can’t do at this beginner’s level. We learned a lot about resourcefulness and adaptation. A plethora of borrowed lamps creates ambiance while dry ice resembles smoke and mist.  A good makeup artist is always vital and there is inevitably one in every student group. Some of us become drama coaches after we have done our job with set design. The director is the key role and we fight to win the title.