5 films to Indigenize your watch-at-home movie list

Searching for fresh entertainment during the pandemic? Try these Indigenous-centered movies.

 

As a service to readers, High Country News has removed the paywall from all COVID-19 stories. Please consider supporting our work by donatingsubscribing or sending us story ideas.

Over the last few months, as COVID-19 changed day-to-day life in communities under stay-at-home orders, quarantined people have been spending an inordinate time at, well, home. People across the world are streaming movies and shows at an all-time high as they find ways to entertain themselves. Indigenous-centered cinema is a requisite to any movie-watching list, featuring storylines that only Indigenous actors and directors could imagine and produce.

Here are five films from the last decade that showcase Indigenous talent. They should be on your quarantine watchlist, whether they’re new to you or a revisitation of a classic:

Boy (2010) by Taika Waititi (Māori) 

James Rolleston in a scene from “Boy” (2010).
Unison Films

Taika Waititi tore through barriers earlier this year when he accepted an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for JoJo Rabbit and became the first Indigenous filmmaker to go home with an Oscar. One of his great talents is his ability to balance painful issues with a laugh-out-loud-worthy, dark sense of humor, evident in JoJo Rabbit as well as in Boy, his film from a decade ago. The titular character is a young Māori kid on the east coast of New Zealand in the ’80s, whose world of awkward crushes and ice pops is turned upside down when the father he never knew, portrayed by Waititi himself, comes home.

Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013) by Jeff Barnaby (Mikmaq)

Devery Jacobs stars in “Rhymes for Young Ghouls” (2013).
Prospector Films

The historical trauma of residential schools is a common theme in Indigenous filmmaking, but Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls is particularly empowering. Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs (Kanienʼkehá꞉ka) is Aila, a resourceful teenage girl on the Red Crow Mi'kmaq Reservation in 1976, who resists the colonizing laws of Canada and the corrupt Indian agent who attempts to force her to comply with them. When Aila’s father reappears, her suppressed anger resurfaces and pushes her family’s issues to the forefront. Rhymes for Young Ghouls is different from other “coming of age” films. 

Mekko (2015) by Sterlin Harjo (Seminole-Muscogee)

Zahn McClarnon in a scene from “Mekko” (2015).
Indion Entertainment Group

Sterlin Harjo is a hardworking filmmaker whose résumé includes everything from documentary to television. His latest feature film tackles a specific diaspora that Oklahoma Natives will understand, given the state’s history as Indian Territory. This underlying historical tension is at work in Mekko as the main character tries to find his way on the streets of Tulsa after serving a 19-year prison sentence. As he settles into his post-prison life, disturbing visions of an evil spirit among his community force Mekko to re-examine his own past. 

Lorena, Light-footed Woman (2019) by Juan Carlos Rulfo

Lorena Ramirez is a Tarahumara runner and the subject of the documentary, “Lorena, Light-footed Woman” (2019).
Netflix

Among the hills of the Chihuahua region of Mexico Lorena Ramirez, an Indigenous Rarámuri woman, honors the legacy of her people by running miles upon miles in her traditional skirts and sandals. This short documentary — originally released under the title Lorena, la de pies ligeros — looks at Lorena’s experience as not only a runner, but an ultra-marathon competitor who travels to big cities to showcase her natural ability. Not only does Lorena enjoy running, she uses her physical activity to connect with her ancestors, who are known to this day for their long-distance running capabilities. Lorena is a beautiful portrait of strength and a reminder of the resilience of Indigenous peoples.

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019) by Kathleen Hepburn, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Blackfoot and Sámi)

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Violet Nelson star in “The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open” (2019).
Experimental Forest Films/Violator Films

Appearing as one long continuous shot in real time, the poetic story in The Body Remembers tackles tough topics like domestic abuse and the ownership of one’s body while also questioning fate and coincidence. Could there be a reason for this chance encounter on a rainy day between two Indigenous women? Co-writer and director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers also portrays Áila, one of the two women, and newcomer Violet Nelson (Kwakwakaʼwakw) shows promise as an actor in the blossoming world of Indigenous filmmaking.

Shea Vassar is a freelance journalist and citizen of the Cherokee Nation who is currently based out of Brooklyn, New York. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • COMMUNITY FORESTER
    The Clearwater Resource Council located in Seeley Lake, Montana is seeking a full-time community forester with experience in both fuels mitigation and landscape restoration. Resumes...
  • GUNNISON BASIN ROUNDTABLE
    The Gunnison Basin Roundtable is currently accepting letters of interest for ten elected seats. Five of the elected members must have relevant experience in the...
  • PCTA TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS IN WASHINGTON'S NORTH CASCADES
    Seasonal Positions: June 17th to September 16th (14 weeks) - 3 positions to be filled The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Salary: Up to $65,000/year DOE Benefits: Generous benefits package — health insurance, Simple IRA and unlimited...
  • UTAH PUBLIC LANDS MANAGER
    Who we are: Since 1985, the Grand Canyon Trust has been a leading voice in regional conservation on the Colorado Plateau. From protecting the Grand...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Walker Basin Conservancy Reno & Yerington, NV Background The Walker Basin Conservancy (Conservancy) leads the effort to restore and maintain Walker Lake while...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    They [Northern Plains] confound the common view that ordinary people are powerless in the face of industry. - Billings Gazette editorial The venerable Northern Plains...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Small home, 2 barns (one has an apartment), and more. Approx. two acres just in the City limits. Famously pure air...
  • TAOS HORNO ADVENTURES
    A Multicultural Culinary Memoir Informed by History and Horticulture. Richard and Annette Rubin. At nighthawkpress.com/titles and Amazon.
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.