by Wendy Kenin @greendoula
News broke last week that a dozen Native Americans and a cultural consultant walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s new Netflix film under production because it was misrepresenting Apache culture and spouted derogatory lines about women and indigenous people. I stand with them!
It gets personal for us Jews who are activists for social justice when successful Jewish business persons in the entertainment industry perpetuate racism in mainstream society. On the heels of a long term campaign which erupted last year to change the name of the football team that Dan Snyder owns from Redskins, Adam Sandler has thus far been silent while his name has trended on social networks over the Natives who walked off the set. Yet Deadline.com reported that Netflix actually jumped at the opportunity to defend Sandler and justify racism in the media by issuing a statement:
“The movie has ‘ridiculous’ in the title for a reason –because it is ridiculous,” said a spokesperson for the streaming service Thursday. “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.”
There’s nothing funny about racism and “ridiculous” is no excuse. The many Jewish activists who have been taking to the streets with the #BlackLivesMatter movement should be finding ways to educate others on the harmful ways Native Americans are depicted by the media and hold our Jewish brethren accountable.
Newsweek interviewed actress Allie Young who walked off the set in protest with others, and gave some more insight into the horrific suggestions depicted in the film.
The script posed more issues, including offensive names for indigenous women, like “Beaver’s Breath” and “Wears No Bra.” In one scene, a Native American women is passed out on the ground. A group of white men pours liquor on her, and she wakes up and starts dancing. “In Indian country, we’re battling that issue right now,” Young said. “It’s 2.5 times more likely for an indigenous woman to be raped or sexually assaulted. Movies like this perpetuate that and just add to the stereotypes of our native women.”
Actress Allie Young has first hand experience with the social challenges that plague the original peoples of this continent as a result of historic and current policies, evidence of ongoing colonization. She echoes what the many campaigns to change racist school mascots around the country assert about the impact of these negative representations on the identity of Native youth.
“I take this very personally because my little brother committed suicide when he was 17 because of racism,” Young said. “In his suicide note, he said, ‘It’s hard to stay alive when you’re brown and gifted.’ I want to take a stand for native and indigenous youth. I want them to see their people portrayed as something better.”
American Jews who are aware of the continuing legacy of governmental forces continuing the historic theft of land against indigenous peoples deplore these evolutions of social oppression. This September, despite prostests the Pope is planning to canonize Junipero Serro, the friar who founded the mission system in California in the 1700’s which enslaved and brutalized the indigenous peoples of the West Coast – and celebrations have already begun among Catholic institutions. In the past month, the State of Michigan sold sacred, treaty-protected land to an internationally owned limestone mine in the largest public land deal in the state’s history. In December, Arizona’s Senator McCain buried a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that gave sacred Apache land Oak Flats to an international copper mine. Over the past decade, the US federal government has militarized and confiscated historic indigenous lands for thousands of miles in constructing and securing the US-Mexico border wall. These new developments are just the latest while rape of the land affects indigenous peoples across the Americas from the Tar Sands to Patagonia.
We must stand against antisemitism on college campuses and around the world. We must protect our sacred and burial sites in the Holy Land and everywhere that Jews have lived. We must protest institutional injustices, endorsement of abuses and military violence by our governmental, corporate and faith leaders. And we must call on Adam Sandler to apologize and join in solidarity against racism in the media.
Whether it’s supporting the women on the front lines of indigenous struggles, endorsing campaigns to end racist mascots, becoming educated and sharing information with others about today’s plight for environmental justice or objecting to the bigotry that the media perpetuates in our society, American Jews and the organizations we are part of must increase our alliances with the indigenous peoples as they lead.