Director Alexandra Lazarowich poses for a portrait in Toronto on Saturday, June 8, 2019. Lazarowich is making a movie about a successful New York City fashion designer returning home to rural Canada, her fiance in tow. Except there’s a twist: The fashionista happens to be Cree - and home is a Northern Alberta reserve.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Director Alexandra Lazarowich poses for a portrait in Toronto on Saturday, June 8, 2019. Lazarowich is making a movie about a successful New York City fashion designer returning home to rural Canada, her fiance in tow. Except there’s a twist: The fashionista happens to be Cree - and home is a Northern Alberta reserve.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Calls for a new kind of popcorn movie: ‘We need Indigenous people in space’

Research has shown that media representation has a pivotal impact on public perception

Director Alexandra Lazarowich is making a movie about a successful New York City fashion designer returning home to rural Canada, her fiance in tow.

Except there’s a twist: The fashionista happens to be Cree — and home is a Northern Alberta reserve.

“I wanted to show that Indigenous women can be loved and not end up as just a prop in someone’s film,” Lazarowich said.

“There isn’t a romantic comedy which features an Indigenous woman who gets to be in love, stay in love and doesn’t come from a completely dysfunctional family.”

Lazarowich, a Sundance Film Festival award winner, is hopeful her film marks a step in the right direction for Canada’s entertainment industry. She also wants to see progress built from last week’s report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which called on “all governments to adequately fund and support Indigenous-led initiatives” in media and the arts.

Lazarowich would like to see it lead to a greater commitment to resources for Indigenous stories, but she’s not waiting around for others to shatter damaging stereotypes.

Her project, “2 Funerals, a Round Dance and a Wedding,” will cover the romcom genre, and she hopes other creators — and especially financiers — take heed and consider venturing into other worlds too.

“We need Indigenous people in space,” she says. “We need Indigenous people in the future.”

ALSO READ: ‘I wanted to cry:’ Canadian Indigenous teen thrilled with McCartney shoutout

Research has shown that media representation has a pivotal impact on public perception, especially when it comes to minorities. The fewer examples of visibility there are in Canadian pop culture, the more damaging stereotypical and negative portrayals can be.

Journalist Betty Ann Adam, whose experience as a victim of the Sixties Scoop was outlined in the NFB documentary “Birth of a Family,” says the recommendation in the MMIWG report may emphasize too strongly the government’s responsibility in media.

She says the responsibility must also lie on Canada’s private broadcasters and film distributors to “take action” in their own ways.

“It’s incumbent on all Canadian producers, casting directors and music directors at every radio station,” she says.

“Don’t just relegate them to the Indigenous Hour.”

Adrian Sutherland, the lead singer in Attawapiskat-based band Midnight Shine, says he doesn’t believe Canada is ready to fully embrace Indigenous artists quite yet, particularly on the music scene where only a few acts have broken into the Canadian mainstream.

His band, which formed in 2011, incorporates his experiences in a northern Ontario community with radio-friendly pop-rock hooks. Despite their best efforts, Midnight Shine continues to exist on the periphery of what’s popular.

“We’ve tried to push our music to the big boys, the big broadcasters, and we’ve spent a tremendous amount of resources… and have got nowhere,” he says.

“There definitely is a shift in people’s minds, but for actual real… change, I don’t believe that, I think it’s garbage. I know how hard we’ve been working, pushing and pushing, and I don’t know what else we could be doing at this point to get more shows. For me, I think it’s going to take a little while longer for things to change and really get moving in the right direction.”

Sutherland hasn’t given up, however, and every so often there are glimmers of hope Midnight Shine will break out.

Last year, the band’s cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” which featured a verse in Mushkegowuk Cree, became their most-streamed song on Spotify. They’re hoping for similar success with a music video for the single “Leather Skin.”

Actor and rapper Ronnie Dean Harris says his own experiences in Canada’s entertainment industry have taught him some important lessons about representation.

Early in his career, he played a rapping meth cook on “Moccasin Flats,” a 2004 co-production of APTN and Showcase. The TV series captured a bleak picture of drugs and poverty on Regina’s urban reserve, but Harris believes some non-Indigenous viewers without context might’ve seen his character merely as a negative stereotype.

“We have to think about what we’re saying and what effect it has,” he says.

“It’s the symbolism that’s being put out there into the Canadian consciousness that needs to change … We don’t need any more really terrible stories being told, I don’t think.”

These days, Harris says he’s focused on projects that fill gaps in representation. He’s interested in documentaries on unexplored perspectives on Canadian history, while he recently lent his voice to the upcoming animated kids’ series “Molly of Denali,” which features a 10-year-old Indigenous girl as the titular character.

And he’s got other ideas in his head too, like a buddy cop film with an Indigenous lead, and an ensemble piece similar to “Superbad,” but set on a reserve.

Lazarowich — whose forthcoming romantic comedy will break similar barriers — says there continues to be a “systemic problem in a lot of the art” that winds up playing in theatres, on television and streaming platforms.

Stories told by non-Indigenous creators often end up “lacking so much” context, she says, at times representing tired stereotypes or leaning too heavily on storylines of misfortune.

“My nieces and nephews don’t have that many Indigenous people to look up to as heroes, and I think that’s a really important thing growing up,” says the director of “Fast Horse,” which picked up the short film jury prize at Sundance in January.

“Who we are is joy, and sometimes tragedy, and we need to see the full spectrum on the big screen.”

ALSO READ: Policing community eyes change after missing, murdered Indigenous women report

David Friend, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jim Webster displays one of the 50 ski chairs he recently purchased from the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR). After around 50 years of use at the Kimberley Alpine Resort, Webster is now selling the chairs for $500 each to raise funds for a local parks project. Paul Rodgers photo.
Jim Webster sells vintage Kimberley Alpine Resort ski chairs for park fundraiser

Marysville resident Jim Webster recently came into possession of some Kimberley history;… Continue reading

(stock photo)
Josh Dueck named Team Canada chef de mission for 2022 Beijing Paralympics

An acclaimed Paralympic champion with local roots has been named to a… Continue reading

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

The Kimberley Nordic Club has outlined their plans for a safe season of winter sport amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Kimberley Nordic Centre.
Kimberley Nordic Club details plans for safe season of winter sport

The Kimberley Nordic Club has released their plan to re-open for the… Continue reading

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

(Needpix.com)
Fraudsters projected to use pet scams to gouge over $3M from customers: BBB

The pandemic heavily contributed to the number of puppy scams

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Most Read