The walkout of Native American actors who were offended by Adam Sandler’s latest comedy has resulted in some suggesting that this protest could mark a turning point for American Indian portrayals and some calling for the film to be yanked.
But according to a source on the set of The Ridiculous 6, the walkout wasn’t as extensive as has been reported.
The send-up of Western films — with a cast including Sandler, Will Forte, Terry Crews, Taylor Lautner, Danny Trejo, Steve Buscemi, Luke Wilson and Nick Nolte, as well as David Spade as General Custer and Vanilla Ice as Mark Twain — has been filming in New Mexico and is scheduled for release next year. It’s one of a four-picture deal between Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison, and Netflix, which has seen profits soaring thanks to its original content.
The Associated Press reported late last month that eight actors “quit the production” over concerns of parts of the script, including Indian names and gags involving Native American ceremonies. The Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN) reported that a dozen actors walked off the set.
PJM has been told that 12 on the set complained about the script and wanted to speak with producers about their concerns. After they walked off the set that day, eight returned the next day and remained working for the duration of the production.
There were more than 150 Native American extras on the set, PJM’s source said. One of the Native American actors on the set, Ricky Lee, gave the same figure to the New York Daily News.
“Believe me, if everyone was really offended, there would be a much bigger uproar,” Lee said.
Bruce Klinekole, an Apache, told ICTMN that he “wasn’t allowed to talk to a producer and they wouldn’t allow me to talk to anybody” when he had concerns as a consultant.
“I never saw the script at all when I first went and then I saw the wardrobe of the actors,” Klinekole told ICTMN. “The first day, I was the only one dressed Apache. My agent told me these would be Apache scenes. Males were dressed in buckskin, which is not Apache at all. They were fixing up their hair into braids and Apache do not wear their hair in braids—It is straight and we wear our hair in a hat or with a headband. Some of the men were wearing feathers and Apaches do not wear feathers at all.”
“The ladies were also in buckskin and were wearing boots that looked like they were purchased from the curio shops called ‘The Running Indian.’ They were wearing chokers. I was kind of overwhelmed, and I said, ‘What is going on here?'”
PJM’s source said that Klinekole was brought in as a temporary consultant after the film’s permanent Native American consultant was taken ill during the shoot.
One of the walk-offs, Dartmouth film school grad Allison Young, told CNN that they followed the lead of the cultural adviser in leaving the set.
Young told CNN that offenses included “broken English” being used by Native American characters and two white actresses playing American Indians, along with character names such as “Beaver’s Breath” and “No Bra.” The Navajo also noted that bronzer was added to her skin to make her look darker onscreen, an allegation that was stoked by a new report in The Hollywood Reporter on Friday.
Young, who said she hopes Netflix pulls the film, told the Valley News in New Hampshire that she went onto the set looking to spot negative stereotypes. “Nothing has changed,” she told ICTMN. “We are still just Hollywood Indians.”
Loren Anthony, a Navajo who participated in the walkout, told the Native Trailblazers radio show that “it started out with disrespect from costumes, there was a boundary that was drawn, and we knew this was going to be a comedy so we thought this is cool.”
“But the Apache people are my cousin tribe, we share similar languages and I also have family members. But nothing was Apache,” said Anthony, who is lead singer for an unsigned metal band called Bloodline. “I was willing to compromise a little bit but after a while—things they had on set, and things used as props, they were taboo. Things were not right, including desecration of feathers. At first I did not know what the script or the storyline was about.”
Separately, he told ICTMN that he refused to do the film at first but agreed to sign on after he was told a cultural consultant would be on set.
“They just treated us as if we should just be on the side,” Anthony said. “When we did speak with the main director, he was trying to say the disrespect was not intentional and this was a comedy.”
He has also extensively tweeted about the incident, including this on Friday: “this is what I over heard ‘Those natives will give up’ ‘They can’t keep this up’ ‘By next week It’ll be old news’ #NeverGiveUp #NativeStrong”
Actor David Hill, a Choctaw, told Native Trailblazers radio there is “a non-Indian culture that complains about the rights that we do have.”
“When we were talking to them they said if you don’t like it, leave. We told them we will leave but this is not going to be the end of this,” Hill said. “Them saying that this is a comedy and that this is a joke, that is nothing more than an excuse to perpetuate racism. It is a cover word to allow racism. The director said, ‘Adam Sandler makes fun of himself.’ But there is a difference between making fun of yourself and making fun of the people that are oppressed.”
Activists also assailed the film on Twitter using the hashtag “NotYourHollywoodIndian.”
A Netflix spokesperson said, “The movie has ridiculous in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous. 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.”
Cast member Vanilla Ice told TMZ that the movie “isn’t Dances With Wolves.”
“I don’t think anybody really had any ill feeling or any intent or anything,” he said. “…It’s a comedy. They’re not there to showcase anything about anybody – they’re just making a funny movie, I think.”
Lee, who plays a medicine man in the film, told the New York Daily News that Sandler chatted several actors about the controversy before Saturday’s wrap party.
“He sat down, discussing all the hype about the walkouts, and the last thing that he said before he got up was that the thing that made him feel the worst is that four people got their feelings hurt,” Lee said. “That says a lot about the man’s character.”
The actor called the satire flick “the wrong battlefield” to fight cultural stereotypes of Native Americans.