Although we live in Oklahoma Native America, as the license plates read many people still believe the popular cinematic images of American Indians as tepee-dwelling folk clad in ceremonial headdresses and quick to dispense ancient wisdom while passing a peace pipe.
Its a stereotype that Lawton-born Kiowa/Choctaw screenwriter Steven Judd, co-writer of the drama Shouting Secrets, screening Thursday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, wants to dispel once and for all.
Growing up, I never got to see Native Americans just playing people you know, humanized. They were always presented in a historical context, usually, Judd said. When I was in college, Pulp Fiction came out and I was thinking, Man, why cant Indians be in movies like this? Now, this movie is nothing like Pulp Fiction, but it was just kind of a way of seeing Natives in regular, human roles.
Judd said he believes that the constant stereotypes have deeper consequences, forcing Native American children to feel like they must conform to certain societal roles. He hopes that through presenting humanized representations, the next generation will be able to move into a more positive future.
I feel like if you could put these images in front of Native kids more positive images in popular culture and the media kids might see it and say, Oh, theres a doctor. I could be a doctor. Thats the idea, he said. Also, for people who dont know Natives, it gives them a chance to see Native Americans as regular people. Hey, we go to McDonalds. We go to the movies. Were just like anyone else.
It was this need to present Native Americans in a modern light that led Judd and Tvli Jacobs, also from Oklahoma, to rewrite the theatrical production on which their film is based.
Shouting Secrets was originally a play by Mickey Blaine and it was actually about a white family. Tvli Jacobs and I were brought on board [by director Korinna Sehringer] to do a punch-up of it, but we ended up changing it to Native Americans, Judd said. We changed so much of it, we got screenwriting credits. We even changed the familys last name to Bishnik, which is a Choctaw word.
The mostly all-Native cast includes Chaske Spencer (The Twilight Sagas Sam Uley) , Qorianka Kilcher (Terrence Malicks The New World), Tyler Christopher (TVs General Hospital) and Tantoo Cardinal (Dances with Wolves).
Its about a guy who lived on a reservation and moved to the city and wrote a tell-all book about his family called Shouting Secrets, Judd said. Because of that, his family is estranged from him and he hasnt been home in nine years. His mother falls ill and is put in intensive care, so he has to come home and now hes forced to deal with all these different relationships that are strained.
Judd said the film is an emotional roller coaster to which anyone, Native American or otherwise, can relate.
Its a universal story that just happens to have Native Americans, he said. Its a story about family. Family stories are universal.