(Also read C.E. Chambers’ interview with actress Valerie Red-Horse at True Stories From The Mainland U.S.)
NATURALLY NATIVE (Red-Horse Native Productions)
Naturally Native is a rough diamond that was formed by resolve and cut to brilliance by hard work and prayer. It’s a movie with a message, a stereotype-smasher that leaves audiences with the unmistakable impression that Valerie Red-Horse, writer, producer, co-director, and lead actress, is someone to take notice of – and someone not to be trifled with. This is the first film ever written, directed, produced and starring Native American women.
The film accomplishes exactly what its creator intended: It depicts a contemporary Native American family living in suburban USA and neither romanticizes nor demonizes them but rather dispels the false images that have bound this ethnic group in a social/economic time warp. Valerie Red-Horse plays Vickie Bighawk, an attractive wife and mother of two children. She lives in a spacious house with a pool (filmed at Red-Horse’s personal residence) and, after 15 years of marriage, is blessed with a still-devoted husband (Pato Hoffmann). She has two younger sisters (Irene Bedard, Smoke Signals and Kimberly Norris Guerrero, TNT’s Geronimo) with whom she has an engaging, almost maternal relationship. This large, extended family lives under the same roof, a home bequeathed to them by their foster mother – who was white.
Therein lies the crux of the movie. Vickie and her sisters are entrepreneurs waiting-in-the-wings to market their biological father’s cosmetics recipes. The two younger women never returned to the reservation to visit him and their heritage is a looming question mark. As they make the rounds seeking the requisite financial backing for their budding business, their journey becomes one long, disappointing road which takes them – to their very great surprise – full circle to completion.
Although the movie’s main emphasis is the Bighawk sisters’ frustration with finding a business backer, Vickie’s husband is not relegated to the background. Steve and Vickie are the sun and moon around which many of the other characters revolve. Their relationship is playful and warm: A hot tub scene is powerfully sensual but wholesome, a credit to co-director Jennifer Wynne Farmer’s classy approach to an often-times done-to-excess moment.
This movie challenges the viewers on more than one level. Red-Horse unabashedly allows her character, Vickie, all the attributes and failings of a good-hearted but competent, strong-willed woman. In addition, she is spiritually alive, one who respects and honors her ancestors’ customs but who “walks the Christian path.” (There’s a hilarious encounter with a psychic, played by Mary Kay Place, that will stun those who have stereotyped Native Americans as spirit-happy.) The middle sister is a beautiful, well-adjusted 30-year-old virgin who is a business major with a graduate degree. The youngest sister is beat up by a white man on a first date because she won’t acquiesce to his not-too-subtle seduction attempts to make her his “little Pocahontas.”
Naturally Native, the first film entirely financed by an Indian Tribe, successfully premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and subsequently won awards at other festivals. If there is a flaw in this low-budget, 19-day shoot, it’s the tendency to try to educate the viewer in only 109 minutes with the multiple grievances that Native Americans bear against modern-day society. Is it any wonder, though, that screenwriter Valerie Red-Horse took this opportunity? Consider this: In 1982, the National Coalition to Support Indian Treaties warned against an X-rated video game called “Custer’s Revenge…in which a naked male figure crosses a desert obstacle to ‘ravish’ an Indian woman.” A spokesman for the manufacturer had stated, “It’s strictly for fun….The only thing that might be construed as violent is tying an Indian maiden to a post and ravishing her, but he doesn’t beat her first.”
(Rated PG-13: man beating woman; sensual hot tub scene)
(Written by C.E. Chambers and published by “The Journal Newspapers Movie Edition,” Volume 22, Number 1196, November 30, 1999)