5 Films With Accurate Native Representation

One of the biggest challenges facing Native Americans today is being misunderstood. This comes from incomplete or inaccurate history taught in schools, stereotypes, election statistics, lack of inclusion in research and Hollywood depictions. The truth is, most Americans hold at least some misconception about Native people, history and funding. To help everyone become more NativeAware®, here are 5 diverse shows or films with accurate representation of Native history and Native life today.

1. Reservation Dogs

The first all-Native programming on mainstream TV is Reservation Dogs. A comedy series about four Indigenous teenagers who want to leave their reservation in Oklahoma and head out west to California. The series was created and produced by Taika Watiti and Sterlin Harjo. What makes this show special is that it’s written by Indigenous writers telling Indigenous stories portrayed by Indigenous people. Both entertaining and educational, the American Film Institute listed it among the ten best TV programs for 2021, 2022 and 2023. It gives viewers a glimpse into real Native life and realities on the reservations today. In just three seasons, the show had 14 wins and 62 nominations, including Independent Spirit awards, a Peabody Award, Television Critics Awards, a Golden Globe nomination and more.

2. Killers of the Flower Moon

Set in 1920s Oklahoma, Killers of the Flower Moon sadly depicts a true story about serial murders of members of the Osage Nation and greed of the American people. This string of brutal crimes came to be known as the Reign of Terror — and it was all about the oil on Osage lands. Although many details from the book are omitted, the plot centers on the history of the Osage Nation and how they outmaneuvered legal precedent at the time. The Osage Nation and its members helped producer Martin Scorsese and author David Grann bring this story to light for the first time in 2023. As you may have heard, Lily Gladstone made history on January 7th as she became the first Native American to win a Golden Globe in the “Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama” category for her performance in Killers of the Flower Moon.

3. Gather

Native ancestral food is medicine, but traditional foodways and health suffered due to colonization and federal commodity programs. Being in control over one’s foods is slowly coming back to Native people through seed banks, garden projects, foraging and nutrition training. A New York Times Critics’ Pick, Gather is a documentary by Sanjay Rawal that follows people from four different tribes on their journey of reclamation, addressing food insecurity to ancestral food practices. As the New York Times so aptly puts it, preserving and practicing cultural food traditions is part of remaining sovereign in the United States and healing from generational trauma caused by colonization. PWNA services are part and parcel of this Native American Food Movement.

4. Geronimo, An American Legend

As complex as it is, writers John Milius and Larry Gross recount the life of Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo, his resistance to U.S. policy and expansion, and his eventual surrender. Starring Oscar-winning actor Wes Studi, the film accurately portrays Geronimo as a fighter but driven to those actions to protect what is left of his people, their land and culture. While Geronimo was intended as mainstream entertainment and is not historically accurate in every detail, Native Americans involved in the project say director Walter Hill attempted the most honest look yet at the legend. In addition, the film accurately portrays that the West was won through various forms of cultural genocide.

5. Wind River

This movie portrays the reality of Missing and Murdered Indian Women and Children (MMIWC) that still confronts Indian Country today. It’s about a Native woman who was killed and the red tape that keeps many Native women’s cases from being resolved by federal agents. While Wind River is fictional, the story is based on hundreds of actual stories just like the film and the injustice against Native women. Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (creator of Yellowstone), the film tells a story inspired by real life concerns and ends with a chilling quote: “While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women.” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland established the new Missing & Murdered Unit in 2021, so this issue is getting more attention but remains a problem.

As diverse as they are, these five shows and films are just a few of those with accurate details about Native people, history and modern life. To stay up to date on Native cinema and entertainment, follow the American Indian Film Institute, and follow @PWNA4hope on social media.

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