Migizi Pensoneau: A 'big deal' over Native depictions in media

YouTube: The Truth About Migizi Pensoneau of the 1491s

Filmmaker Migizi Pensoneau, a founding member of The 1491s, discusses why representations of Native people are important:
A studio once hired me to write four drafts of an action movie. A producer gave me a basic outline of a road movie about a Native American detective chasing a serial killer across the country. As the notes started coming in, they got increasingly ridiculous.

“Could you have the detective have long hair? Maybe with a feather in it?”

“He should be dealing with the legacy of his father’s alcoholism, don’t you think?”

“He should have a quirky guy with him when he goes across country. Maybe a cousin or an uncle who rides in a sidecar, who gives him Indian wisdom as they travel?”

They basically wanted me to write Smoke Signals With Guns. That movie was never made. I can’t imagine why.

So here we are, 14 years into the new millennium, and it’s an age of hashtags and viral videos. There has never been a media outlet like the Internet. Native Americans can, for the first time ever, tell authentic, diverse stories to a global audience without being vetted, tampered with, or Indianed up. I find it empowering. It’s the first time since Columbus’s first contact that Indian people have been wholly in control of their own imagery on such a scale. Now any kid feeling like the cowboys always win can surf over to YouTube or Facebook and see a true and modern portrayal of his or her people out there in the world. This is a massive change from when I was a kid. And it’s 180 degrees from the start of America.

In some of the first notes written about Native Americans, Columbus talked about how easy it would be to enslave such an innocent and childlike people. But if any Indian broke that narrative and stepped up to Columbus and the extraordinary atrocities he and his men committed, that was savagery. The women were free and innocent, and could be taken on a whim with the right amount of coercion or force. A noble, a savage, a maiden—three concepts as erroneous and one-dimensional as the old myth that Columbus thought he’d landed in India, but they make the bloody history of this Land of the Free a little easier to teach to elementary schools, and justify my people receiving just a paragraph in a Minnesota textbook.

Get the Story:
Migizi Pensoneau: What’s the big deal? (The Missoula Independent 4/24)

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