Ernest M. Whiteman III spoke about Native American media representation and its real-world ramifications in his virtual presentation hosted by the Evanston Public Library on Tuesday evening.
Whiteman – a media educator, filmmaker, and writer from northern Arapaho – addressed stereotypes around Native Americans, authentic portrayal, and erasure. He also spoke with the audience about their preconceptions about Native Americans.
âWhen it comes to how natives are portrayed and how it affects Native Americans, I always ask people to imagine something,â Whiteman said. âImagine that every time you meet someone, they’ve already made a decision about you. They have already decided on you all of these things because you are a Native American.
Library assistant Kellye Fleming, who organized the event, said the presentation was particularly timely given that Indigenous Peoples Day was the day before.
Fleming said she hoped attendees would learn more about the impact of media representation on perceptions of Native Americans.
â(The representation) is kind of like a mirror of our world,â Fleming said. âWho is seen and who is not, and what that means for the people who see themselves, and then for those who cannot see themselves. “
In the lecture, Whiteman examined the tropes in television and film surrounding Native Americans. He discussed the violent stereotypes of the âsavageâ and the villainous, as well as the submissive âgood Indianâ.
Whiteman said the portrayal perpetuates the idea that Native Americans are âalways the enemy to be overcomeâ – an idea that leads to violence against Native people.
Additionally, movies and TV shows typically portray Native Americans as stuck in the past and disconnected from modernity, he said, noting that the model has appeared on shows ranging from âStar Trekâ to âLittle Houseâ. on the Prairie “. Whiteman linked this stereotype to the erasure of Native American perspectives.
âWhen you get performances that continually leave us in the past, there’s this ownership that comes in from a non-native audience that thinks they can do whatever they want because the natives are gone,â Whiteman said.
He said Native Americans should be the ones telling Native American stories.
Whiteman pointed out how native-run shows like “Rutherford Falls” and “Reservation Dogs” have become a hot topic in popular culture. However, he said, positioning two shows – each of which has flaws – as the only ones with an accurate portrayal of Native Americans overwhelms them.
As Whiteman discussed positive portrayal, he took issue with the idea that better shows only appear now. He pointed to “Northern Exposure,” which aired between 1990 and 1995, as an example of an older show run by Native Americans. He also spoke of recent examples of performance conducted by Native American writers, actors and directors.
For some audience members, like Nancy Braund, an Evanston resident, the presentation helped encourage further consideration of the performance.
âIt got me thinking about how the movies in particular have done a bad job of portraying the people who are being cited: ‘different’,â Braund said.
At the end of Whiteman’s speech, he pointed out how media portrayals erase true Native Americans. On the Shared Zoom screen, he displayed an image of two drawings of Native Americans. He then asked the audience which of the characters on the screen was a better representation of Native Americans.
After discussing the stereotypes in the two images, Whiteman pointed out that he, too, was visible on screen. He said that by showing representations of Native Americans, he made himself invisible. It was the representations, rather than the reality, that caught people’s attention.
âRepresentation matters, doesn’t it? Whiteman said. âIt influences the way people interact with Native Americans, in all areas of society. ”
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