Native and Indigenous Writers Ask Hollywood to Advance Film and TV Representation

WGA Building Black and White - H - 2019
WGAW

Twenty-eight writers on the Writers Guild of America West's Native American & Indigenous Writers Committee said the industry is "continuing inaccurate narratives and erasure of our community."

Twenty-eight Native American and Indigenous writers are calling on Hollywood to "commit to advancing" Native and Indigenous representation in a new open letter, circulated on Indigenous Peoples' Day.

The letter, signed by members of the Writers Guild of America West's Native American & Indigenous Writers Committee, argues that Native and Indigenous creatives "are often excluded from industry-wide diversity promises and rolled into the BIPOC acronym without recognition that Native and Indigenous people have a specific, necessary voice within this country" and that amid an ongoing reckoning over race in America, "now is the time to make amends for inadequate representation." Signatories include Deputy writer Anthony Florez, Final Space writer Kelly Lynne D'Angelo and Feed poet and writer Tommy Pico.

The letter posits that film and television projects are still telling Native American and Indigenous stories "told by non-native writers who perpetuate inaccurate and racist representations." The result, the signatories say, is that non-Native American actors are cast in Native American roles while Native American characters are portrayed "in time capsules, as mythical creatures, spirit guides and victims of horrific trauma."

According to the University of California Los Angeles' 2020 "Hollywood Diversity Report," Native Americans landed just 0.3 percent of all top film roles in 2018 and 0.5 percent in 2019. No Native women landed any of these roles in 2018 or 2019. No Native directors helmed any of the top films in 2018 or 2019.

According to the 2020 Writers Guild of America West's Inclusion Report, Native American television writers comprise just 1.1% of working staffs while in screenwriting they represent just 0.8 percent of employed screenwriters.

Another consequence of the overall lack of representation, the signatories say, is that "misconceptions continue regarding the legal rights of Native Nations and contributes to the harm of Native and Indigenous women." Native American creatives are sometimes hired only as cultural consultants, rather than key contributors to projects, the letter added.

"We are not in the business of legitimizing scripts for free, or authorizing our stories for others to tell," the letter continues. "We need you to zealously push for scripts written by Indigenous writers, TV shows run by Indigenous show-runners, filmed by Indigenous directors and portrayed by Indigenous actors to ensure we have the primary opportunity to portray our communities."