Film review of Wind River: True-to-life story exposes crimes against MMIWG2S

Wind River opens with a young woman running barefoot through the snow in the mountains. She falls, crying and gasping, gets up and runs farther — terrifying moments set against breathtaking scenery.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a white hunter who works for the Fish and Wildlife Service, visits his ex-wife Wilma (Julia Jones). He had married into a Wind River Arapaho family, but they had separated after their daughter, Emily, died under unknown circumstances. While he hunts a mountain lion that killed his father-in-law’s cattle, Cory finds a young woman dead in the snow. She is Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), his late daughter’s best friend. She has been murdered.

Wind River is a murder mystery thriller set on and around the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, home to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Nations. The tension and the dangers build as we watch Cory, his father-in-law and the reservation’s chief of Indian police, Ben Shoyo (Graham Greene), wait for the FBI to arrive. Homicide on reservation lands is under federal jurisdiction; the FBI sends a young female agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), from Florida who is woefully unprepared for the bitter conditions on a reservation high up in the Rocky Mountains. Bureaucratic process limits Ben and Jane from getting the kind of backup they need going forward. Because Cory tracks predators as his job, Jane asks Cory to track this predator.

They head into danger as Cory follows the murderer’s snowmobile tracks, only to find that a second body had been dumped — a man has also been murdered. They later discover that Natalie had been seeing the man, who worked at a nearby drill camp as security. (Spoiler!)

Yes, this is a movie about the ongoing criminal attacks on Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two Spirits (MMIWG2S). There are brutal scenes that are hard to watch, but you will learn something about life on the reservations along the northern border in the Rocky Mountains and northern Plains, about the racism faced daily by Native people and the increased crimes against Indigenous women that result when fossil fuel wells and pipeline man camps are set up near reservations.

‘This movie is not about “White Saviorism”’

Leaders of Wind River’s Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Nations approved the script, toured the set and provided resource information to make the story true to life.

Kevin Noble Maillard, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, reviewed the film for the Aug. 1, 2017, New York Times. He quotes Wind River director Taylor Sheridan: “‘I wasn’t going to sit here and tell a story about very real issues,’ namely, sexual violence against women in Indian Country, ‘and cast people to portray characters in that world suffering those burdens and not have some connection.’”

Maillard added that for Wind River, the production involved “intertribal collaboration. The Tunica-Biloxi tribe of Louisiana had no actors in the film, but provided 90 percent of the film’s budget.” (tinyurl.com/y7rnkw7b)

Vincent Schilling of Indian Country Today said, “This movie is not about ‘White Saviorism.’ Taylor Sheridan has created a profound and gripping reality about the complexities of relationships between different peoples. I believe this to be the most realistic and respectful portrayal on film of the relationships between Native people and others outside ‘the rez.’”

Schilling also noted the long list of Native cast and crew members, including such prominent actors as Gil Birmingham (Comanche), Tantoo Cardinal (Cree), Graham Greene (Oneida), Julia Jones (Choctaw, Chickasaw) and Martin Sensmeier (Tlinglit, Koyukon Athabascan).

“The performances by Gil Birmingham [Natalie’s grieving father Martin], Graham Greene, Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen are wonderful. I would say for all four actors, they each delivered their finest performance of their careers.

Wind River spoke to me and resonated with me and, in a necessary way, is a devastating look at reality. Look no further, Wind River is the film to see this year.” (tinyurl.com/y7jtknoy)

Wind River leaves the viewer with outrage at the ongoing crimes of rape, trafficking and murder of Indigenous women, and a sense of the demands for justice in Native nations and communities.

While there are statistics on all other demographics of missing persons in the U.S. and Canada, no official statistics are kept for missing Native women, girls and Two Spirit people. Community activists believe that more than 6,000 MMIWG2S are missing, murdered or kidnapped and sold to traffickers. Indigenous women also suffer the highest rates of violence and sexual assaults. The settler-state genocide of Indigenous women has never ended.

Response to Harvey Weinstein scandal

Wind River was eight weeks into theatrical release when the Harvey Weinstein rape scandal broke. Director and writer Taylor Sheridan immediately reached out to the producers and principal actors, and they fully severed relations with Weinstein’s Miramax studio. The Tunica-Biloxi Nation of Louisiana then stepped up with 100 percent financial backing.

Vanity Fair of Dec. 1, 2017, reported that “future proceeds from the film will go to the Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, which intends to use the money to finance a database of crime statistics about Native American women — such statistics are difficult, if not impossible, to find, Sheridan said, because of jurisdictional issues among the law enforcement agencies around reservation land.”

Sheridan added: “There’s a necessary purging that’s happening. There’s a certain justice in the fact that this is the last thing [Harvey Weinstein] did, and the thing I took from him.”

The Nov. 20, 2017, Los Angeles Times quoted Sheridan as saying: “At its best, film allows an audience to learn from an experience without the burden of having to endure it. Wind River holds a mirror to an ignored epidemic raging through this nation — the exploitation of women. Nowhere is that epidemic more acute than on this nation’s Indian reservations.

“Through tremendous sacrifice by all involved in this production, and great trust given me by the Tunica-Biloxi tribe — a trust they have extended to wrest control of this film from a perpetrator of the very violence this film highlights — we have all endeavored to paint an accurate and empathetic picture of one of my nation’s great shames — its apathy toward the original inhabitants of this country.”

Despite strong notices from critics at Sundance, a Cannes best director award and postrelease favorable reviews, the subsequent awards events and the #MeToo Movement did not acknowledge Wind River. The 2017 Golden Globes, which had a widespread anti-rape-culture message, never mentioned Wind River as a film nor as an example of protest against Weinstein.

And not one of the women who spoke regarding #MeToo at the Globes mentioned late Blackfeet actor Misty Upham, who was raped by a Weinstein executive at the 2013 Globes. Shortly after she delivered DNA evidence to the Los Angeles Police Department, she died under mysterious circumstances. Prosecutors never filed charges against the rapist, despite the DNA evidence.

Stephanie Tromblay

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Stephanie Tromblay

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