Kevin Costner is riding high on the success of Yellowstone, one of the most popular shows on television with Game of Thrones-level ratings, when everyone thought those numbers would be impossible to reach post-Thrones. So, what is Costner doing with his new hot streak? Is he subjecting us to more country music? No, he’s producing a documentary series about Indigenous peoples around the world. Oh, so he’s lending his A-list name and star power to propel an Indigenous filmmaker to tell stories of their people? Uh, not…exactly.
The project is called Onward and comes from filmmaker Cale Glendening, who, as far as I can tell, has really good intentions and no Indigenous cred. He’s just a dude who made a short documentary about Kazakh-Mongolian eagle hunters in the Atlai Mountains, and that’s not NOTHING, but it’s also a long way from “Indigenous peoples telling their own stories”. The other partners involved in Onward are production company 44 Blue, which is a subsidiary of Red Arrow Studios. Despite its name, Red Arrow has nothing to do with Indigenous filmmakers or storytellers. It’s a European-based production house that cranks out shows like Love Is Blind, and Married At First Sight, and Say Yes to the Dress.
I want to give everyone here the benefit of the doubt, and Cale Glendening’s mission statement is to “create the largest visual anthology of Indigenous people in the world so that we can help keep these traditions alive”. Showrunner Smriti Mundhra, who created Indian Matchmaking, adds that this will be “in partnership with storytellers who are most closely connected to those worlds”. So…actual Indigenous people? Can you just confirm, out loud, that at SOME point in production actual Indigenous people will be involved as more than just the Object?
It's frustrating that in the year of our lady 2022, this is still happening. Again, I am sure everyone has the BEST of intentions, but does NO ONE see how this looks? A bunch of non-Indigenous people travelling around, documenting Indigenous cultures without participation FROM WITHIN those cultures? It’s just more objectification, no matter how well you mean. Tie it to climate change and sustainability and all the eco buzz words, and it’s STILL objectifying. Because you know what would REALLY “help keep these traditions alive”? Community support. Actual, material community support that allows Indigenous people to live as they have done, unmolested and unbothered by outsiders. Supporting the Landback movement, working to undo the generations of trauma inflicted by residential schools, ending corporate attempts to seize Indigenous lands for further exploitation would “help keep these traditions alive”. Put the cameras in the hands of Indigenous storytellers/filmmakers, and let THEM decide what to document and how best to keep their traditions alive.