Hollywood’s history is not known for its accurate or fair representation of Native Americans. But is stereotyping and racist mockery a modern issue for the film industry? About a dozen Native American actresses and actors recently walked off the film set of the upcoming Adam Sandler movie Ridiculous Six – a satire of the problematic 1960 western The Magnificent Seven – due to the offensive and inaccurate portrayals of Apache culture.
Vincent Schilling reported for Indian Country Today that among the actors who walked off set were Navajo Nation tribal members Loren Anthony, lead singer of Bloodline, and Allison Young, a Dartmouth film student.
After initially declining to do the movie, Anthony accepted the second offer when producers informed him a cultural consultant had been hired. But as production progressed, the native actors noticed inaccurate costuming and props along with sexist, racist humor throughout the script.
"We were supposed to be Apache, but it was really stereotypical and we did not look Apache at all. We looked more like Comanche," Anthony said. "One thing that really offended a lot of people was that there was a female character called Beaver's Breath. One character says 'Hey, Beaver's Breath.' And the native woman says, 'How did you know my name?'"
Comedians and filmmakers have repeatedly cited humor and satire as their defense for crude, racist and stereotypical content. Last year, controversial satire film The Interview implemented heavy stereotyping to portray Kim Jong-un and North Korean characters. The plot line applied the overused “white savior complex” by having Seth Rogen and James Franco’s characters graciously save North Korea from their corrupt leader.
Rogen spoke out in defense of The Interview, stating the film was never meant to be controversial. Sandler remains silent so far regarding cast-members walking off set.
A Netflix spokesperson, however, released a statement responding on behalf of the film:
“The movie has ridiculous in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous,” said a Netflix spokesperson. “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.”
By definition, satire is intended to exaggerate and expose for the sake of criticism and challenge authority in a political context. Satire should never validate mockery toward a culture that has been repeatedly misrepresented and marginalized throughout film history. Humor should never excuse disrespect.