The kitchen fills with family, each new arrival sending Cody back to the frying pan to whip up another breakfast. Dorothy, now 95, is here, along with Marcus, who's hobbling on a cane, recovering from an accident. At a recent family screening of the documentary, he asked Radmilla for forgiveness.
"I said, 'Marcus, I forgave you a long time ago,' " says Cody. "I told him his role in the film was very important. It'll make people think about their attitudes."
Marcus, who long ago learned to treasure his niece, bellies up to the table, calling over his shoulder, "This bacon is reeeeal good, Millie. Now you should make a cake!"
Margaret is here, too -- tall, lively, talkative. After her wild teenage years (she says she drank too much to take care of a baby), she became a weaver. Today, she sells her rugs at Garland's Indian Jewelry, a top Native outlet in Sedona. Now 16 years sober, Margaret sees parallels between her life and her daughter's. "We've both gone through things that made us tough," she says. "Natives have a tendency to crawl under a rock when things go bad. But Millie's come back strong. Look what she's doing with her domestic violence work. Look what she's done with this film."
First-time filmmaker Webb had started out to do a documentary about beauty queens. Her determination to portray all the characters as authentically as possible took the film in unexpected directions. "Nobody is all good or all bad, and I wanted to show those complications," says Webb. "It was a challenge to keep the focus on Radmilla because everyone in the film -- Marcus, the dad, Margaret -- could have a documentary about them."
Cody hopes that Hearing Radmilla conveys the message that anyone can make serious mistakes and recover from them, and that it's OK to be different. In her talks to schoolkids, she urges them to banish from their vocabularies the Navajo word zhinni -- a slur for black person -- and replace it with naahili, which roughly translates as "the dark ones who've come across to live."
"I want people to hear about domestic violence from a survivor," says Cody. "For me, a lot of this has been about taking back power."
The documentary also shows that family love rarely moves in a straight line. If you hang in there, however, the road will always lead home.
"The experience of doing this picture has brought us closer together as a family," says Cody. "My mom tells me she loves me now, but she couldn't do that before unless she was drunk."
After breakfast, Margaret goes off to feed the horses. Jamie, Cody's 14-year-old sister, chases the orphan sheep across the flats. Cody, who spent her childhood doing the same things, plans to settle down here when the time is right.
"This is where I'm going to build my life," Cody says, looking around at the basketball hoop, the outhouse, the sheep pen and the long plateau leading out to the Little Colorado River. "Some day I'll settle down here and have my own herd of sheep. But right now I'm still ripping and running, (hoping) this documentary ... changes some attitudes. I really think it can make a difference."
Postscript: Since Hearing Radmilla premiered on the Navajo Reservation last September, it's been screened in theaters and film festivals around the Southwest and as far away as New York City and Germany. On February 26, 2011, it won the Director's Choice award at the Sedona International Film Festival. It's planned for DVD release later this year. For more information, go to http://www.radmillacody.net/
This story was funded by a grant from the McCune Charitable Foundation.
Leo W. Banks covers the Southwest and the Mexican border, for publications ranging from the Tucson Weekly to the Wall Street Journal, from his base in Tucson. He’s also written or been a co-writer of seven books about Arizona’s history, culture and landscape.