Native Representation Through Comic-Con and Pop Culture

   By Jacqui Vela

With Comic-Con International coming up (July 25-28), I am thinking about the surge of authentic Native characters in mainstream media and pop culture. What a great feeling to anticipate encountering Maya Lopez at this year’s Comic-Con! She’s a Native American character from the new hit Marvel Series Echo! However, despite this refreshing shift toward authentic and respectful Indigenous portrayals through TV and film characters, it hasn’t always been this way.

Moreover, in a study conducted by the University of Southern California evaluating the 1,600 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2022, Native roles did not exceed 1% during this period. Nevertheless, this year alone, 11 films are showcasing Native culture, stories, and or characters. This shift marks a crucial departure from the typical lack of Native representation and the harmful stereotypes it helps perpetuate.  

Native Films

Prominent examples include Lily Gladstone’s powerful performance in Killers of the Flower Moon, the groundbreaking TV series Echo, and the innovative film Fancy Dance. These productions stand as beacons of change. They highlight the depth and diversity of Native experiences while challenging historical inaccuracies and stereotypes.

Furthermore, Lily Gladstone, a member of the Blackfeet and Nez Perce Nations, delivered a compelling portrayal of an Osage citizen in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. This film dives into the tragic but true story of Osage murders for greed in the 1920s. Her exceptional Flower Moon performance highlighted the importance of casting Native actors in Native roles. By doing so, filmmakers ensure authenticity for viewers and opportunities for Native talents to represent their Tribes.

Additionally, the TV series Echo, co-produced by Disney+ and CBC, continues this positive momentum. The narrative centers on a young Indigenous girl by the name of Maya Lopez who discovers her supernatural abilities. The film is created by Métis filmmaker and showrunner James Gunn. Echo integrates Indigenous languages and traditions in its storytelling. This approach offers viewers a cultural view rarely seen in mainstream media. It educates audiences about Indigenous cultures and inspires Native viewers by depicting relatable characters.

Moreover, the film Fancy Dance showcases modern Indigenous life through cultural pride and resilience. It is directed by Erica Tremblay and stars Lily Gladstone. Fancy Dance contributes to a broader narrative celebrating the vibrancy of Indian Country today.

Native Representation in the Media Today

Today’s more inclusive and accurate media landscape is a significant step forward for the entertainment industry and a service to diversity and equity. It helps dismantle harmful stereotypes, long-held misconceptions, and bias against Indigenous peoples. By portraying Native characters truthfully and respectfully, filmmakers and storytellers foster greater understanding and empathy among viewers. When Native youth see positive role models on-screen, it instills a sense of pride and encourages them to embrace their heritage and pursue their aspirations. It’s a win-win-win for all of us.