On Wednesday, about a dozen Native American actors, including the film’s Native consultant, walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s new Western parody, The Ridiculous Six.
The actors found the language in the script to be offensive toward native women and misrepresentative of Apache culture. In not-exactly-surprising Sandler fashion, the screenplay offers up jokes about an Apache woman smoking a peace pipe while squatting to pee. Other native women have names like “Beaver’s Breath” and “No Bra.” Looks like we may have a new contender for Sandler’s most offensive flick to date.
Loren Anthony, a Navajo Nation tribal member and lead singer of metal band Bloodline, told Indian Country Today Media Network that he’d originally declined to participate in the movie. “I was asked a long time ago to do some work on this and I wasn’t down for it. Then they told me it was going to be a comedy, but it would not be racist.”
After producers assured him that a cultural consultant had been hired and the work would be “tasteful,” he was ultimately persuaded to to join. “But on Monday things started getting weird on the set.”
As Mashable reported, Anthony didn’t appear to have any problems with filming a few days ago, as he was sharing uncritical photos from the shoot on his Instagram.
Another actor to leave the set was Allison Young, Navajo, who reported that she, too, “had an uneasy feeling inside of me and felt so conflicted” when she signed on to the film. “We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’…Nothing has changed. We are still just Hollywood Indians.”
Other actors cited inaccurate costumes and a general atmosphere of disrespect and closed-mindedness. It’s a high-profile problem for a high-profile project to have: the comedy is part of a four-movie deal Netflix inked with Sandler last fall. Sandler is slated to develop and premiere four films exclusively with the streaming giant. (In his statement about the news, Sandler cited the fact that “Netflix rhymes with ‘wet chicks'” as his reason for the partnership.)
It’s also the second time in months that Netflix has been in the news for insensitive portrayals of Native Americans. The otherwise delightful Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, brainchild of 30 Rock dream team Tina Fey and Rob Carlock, included a puzzling, uncomfortable plotline about a wealthy, white woman (played by Jenna Maroney) with a secret past: she’s actually a Native American.
Jacqueline used to be Jackie Lynn, until she dyed her hair blonde, popped in some blue contacts, and started her life anew in New York. She tells her parents that this transition is necessary, because “if you want to get anywhere, you need to be blonde and white.” It’s her comic version of Don Draper’s Dick Whitman roots (creator Matt Weiner has said many times that Mad Men is, at its core, a story about trying to become white in America because “the definition of success in America—becoming a WASP. A WASP male.”), a way to add a sympathetic backstory to an otherwise tough-to-love character.
Opinion on the Native subplot was divided. Jiwere-Nutachi/Chahta Johnnie Jae, journalist and co-editor of Native Max magazine, approved wholeheartedly, telling ICTMN that “The show is also addressing the white privilege afforded to those same white-passing Natives. It’s not trivializing these issues, it’s bringing them out in the open.” But plenty of critics took the other side, with Vulture arguing that Jacqueline’s backstory amounting to “sloppily marginalizing a group of people who are already as marginalized as you can get” and The AV Club deeming the whole thing “a whitewashed plot about whitewashing. And it just feels off. [Jane] Krakowski should not be playing a Native American character, even one who has decided to pretend to be white.”
Netflix has responded to the allegations against Sandler’s movie — a spoof of The Magnificent Seven — by, essentially, dismissing them: “The movie has ridiculous in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous. It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of — but in on — the joke.”