Why Is Michelle Williams in Redface?


Now I’ve really seen it all. Michelle Williams is on the cover of AnOther Magazine, in apparent Redface. Michelle burst into the spotlight when she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Brokeback Mountain (2005). Later, she was nominated for Oscars for her work in Blue Valentine (2010) and Marilyn (2011). She is now starring as Glinda The Good Witch in Oz: The Great and Powerful (now in theaters).

Dressed in a braided wig, dull beads, and turkey feathers while sporting a decidedly stoic expression, AnOther Magazine and company ups the ante by putting Michelle in a flannel shirt, jeans, and what appears to be some sort of academic or legal robe. I smell an attempt to portray reservation nobility. Are they endeavoring to capture the spirit of the American Indian Movement (AIM) circa 1973? Is this an ad for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) or the American Indian College Fund (AICF)? Nope. It’s a 33 year old white actress hyping her latest Hollywood project by wearing a cheap costume designed to make her look like she’s the member of another race.

Am I glad that unlike most racist, stereotypical caricatures of American Indians in pop culture today (Victoria’s Secret’s Racist Garbage Is Just Asking for a Boycott), Michelle is not practically naked? Yes — but just as Blackface is never okay, Redface is never okay. Ever.

Some folks contend that since it’s acceptable to dress up as a cowboy, they should get a pass for dressing up as an ‘Indian.’ Wrong. Donning the customary dress of a profession, like that of a cowboy, or a firefighter, or a police officer, is not comparable to wearing a hackneyed ‘Indian’ costume because being Native is not an occupation. American Indians are an entire race of people. We are living, breathing, human beings, made up of hundreds of separate Tribal groups, each with their own history, culture, language, and often, land base. We’re ‘Indian’ all day, everyday, and we own our own likenesses. We’re not extinct! Collectively, we number in the millions.

Do you want real pictures of American Indians? Would you like to hear our stories and get to know us? Come see us. Pick up the phone. Tweet us. Hire a Native. In 2013, we’re represented in every profession. Work with us, not against us. Don’t be a pretendian. Stop supporting cliché images of American Indians. Racism is racism no matter what era of our history you attempt to portray, or what lens or filter you use.

Adding insult to injury, Michelle’s latest project, Oz: The Great and Powerful, is based on the novels of L. Frank Baum. Baum was a white supremacist; a flaming racist who called for the extermination of all American Indians.

Before Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he was the editor of a newspaper in Aberdeen, South Dakota. South Dakota is the home of nine Oceti Sakowin (Sioux) Tribes. On December 20, 1890, nine days before The Wounded Knee Massacre where over 150 Lakota Sioux, mostly women and children, were slaughtered by the 7th Calvary (Custer’s regiment), Baum wrote an editorial that called for the genocide of every last American Indian.

“The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are.” – L. Frank Baum

Like other minority groups, the Native people of today face a myriad of social and economic issues, but we as sovereign Nations we are strong and far from broken.

Falsely aligning Native imagery with L. Frank Baum is akin to putting a picture of a Gentile in a stereotypical Jewish getup on the cover of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. AnOther Magazine and Michelle Williams have made a serious blunder here. The cover should be pulled, and all parties involved owe the American Indian community an apology. Further, we could all save ourselves a lot of trouble from here on out if people made an effort to learn more about cultures other than their own by opening the lines of communication. Have some humanity. Regardless of race, we are equals and worthy of respect.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton/Mdewakanton/Hunkpapa) is a writer, speaker,former science professor and tribal attorney. She is a columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network and LastRealIndians.com.

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