I sat in the theater with my parents, eagerly awaiting Dunkirk. You know how it is - you go to see a movie and end up watching thirty minutes of trailers first, most of which aren’t your thing. But sometimes, every once in awhile, one sparks your interest. That’s exactly what happened to me when the Wind River trailer quietly flashed across the screen.
If you haven’t seen the movie, check out the trailer here. Writer/director Taylor Sheridan, who also penned 2015’s gritty Sicario, offers another artful feature simmering with controversy. Starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen (both of Marvel’s Avengers fame), the film follows a hunter (Renner) and an FBI agent (Olsen) hot on the trail of a reservation homicide. Films are so rarely made about the tragedies many Native American communities face, so I bought my ticket as soon as I could.
Set against the bleak backdrop of Wyoming’s Wind River Indian reservation, the movie explored tough topics such as reservations’ lack of resources, strained family relationships, grief, and rape. Renner’s character, Cory, seeks justice for the murderer of his native friend’s daughter, while wrestling with the recent loss of his own daughter. After a shocking reveal and heart-breaking conclusion, the film ends with both bereaved fathers sitting side by side, sharing in each other’s grief.
I left the theater with a heavy heart and full mind. Sheridan had addressed so many issues that I wondered what had motivated him to create the film. Hollywood rarely has pure intentions when attacking such important, intense, and incredibly tragic truths. Plus, most moviegoers don’t want to pay to see the harsh realities in the country they call home. Even if people have not caused a problem, they do not want to acknowledge its existence, because it is (understandably) upsetting. But it is so important to be educated, even if the only change that’s made is within oneself. I dug around and discovered that this was in fact Sheridan’s intention behind Wind River.
“I hope that [viewers] recognize that there's an epidemic of violence on the reservation that needs attention and addressing. And I hope, likewise, they recognize that there are people living on the reservation who are no different than people living in a city. There's such a misunderstanding of the Native American culture and such a stereotype. I hope I shatter that.
I think my mission as a storyteller is to try and find ways to show how similar we are. You can admire the differences and respect them and learn from them. But it's the sameness that will give this country a sense of community that it used to have, I think. Maybe it never authentically had it, but it certainly needs it. And then as a nation, as a society, the problems affecting anyone in that society are a problem affecting everyone in that society.”*
- Taylor Sheridan
Sheridan’s words struck me because I knew exactly what he meant. This is exactly the way I feel about the students I reach through the Lab. While I am not a storyteller (these blogs are as close as I will ever get!), I also hope to be an agent of change. I hope that the work we do at Lab 29 reflects our true desire to reach those who have been forgotten and give them the opportunities they have been robbed of.
People ask me all the time why I chose to serve Native American communities, and I hope they continue to. I love having the chance to share about the realities on reservations. I also hope people recognize that even though I am not Native American, I can still do my best to help. Just like Sheridan, I want to correct misunderstandings and help to break stereotypes. I want others to see that “sameness” that Sheridan mentions so that we can strengthen America’s sense of community.
As I mentioned earlier, Wind River ends with the two fathers - the Cowboy and the Indian - sitting together, illustrating how experiences, like grief, transcend race. Just before the credits roll, a chilling statement fades into view over the screen. “While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women,” the title reads.** My hope is that all who see the film not only walk away with that last statement on their minds, but also a burning desire to join in the fight to end sexual violence and inequality.
*Simon, Scott. “Investigating A Murder In 'Wind River.'” NPR.org. National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/2017/08/05/541774348/investigating-a-murder-in-wind-river. August 5, 2017. Web. September 14, 2017.
**Schilling, Mary Kaye. “Taylor Sheridan’s ‘Wind River’ is a Blistering Expose of Violence Against Native American Women.” Newsweek.com. Newsweek LLC. http://www.newsweek.com/2017/08/11/movie-wind-river-taylor-sheridan-pine-ridge-reservation-642992.html. July 28, 2017. Web. September 14, 2017.