Increase Representation and Cultural Accuracy of Native Americans in Mainstream Media
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Native Americans have more often than not been inaccurately portrayed in the mainstream media dating back to the popular era of 'Cowboy & Indian' films (where Italian and Spanish actors were chosen to portray 'Indians'). These portrayals fuel harmful stereotypes, obstruct opportunities and perpetuate an image of a people that does not now (nor has it ever) expressed who Native Americans are, have contributed, and are capable of.
The negative impact of inaccurate representation is real and needs to change.
We have numerous talented and successful Native American Brothers and Sisters who deserve opportunity in the Mainstream Media. Together, we can Increase Representation and Cultural Accuracy of Native Americans in Mainstream Media.
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- Native Americans experience “relative invisibility” in the media. When they are included, they generally are portrayed wearing buckskin, riding horses or living in teepees, or associated with addiction, poverty and a lack of formal education.
- When Native Americans are included in media depictions, they are usually shown as a particular type of Native American, a narrow representation that does not reflect the wide diversity among the hundreds of tribal cultures
- Native Americans make up a very small percentage of the U.S. population but are much underrepresented in the media. The percentage of characters in popular films and primetime TV shows who are Native American ranges from zero to 0.4 percent. Less than 1 percent of children’s cartoon characters are Native Americans, who make up 0.09 percent of video game characters.
- The lack of accurate representation is heightened by the fact that the average U.S. resident experiences nearly no direct, daily interaction with Native Americans.
- Inaccurate and negative media depictions have psychological consequences. Exposure to common media portrayals has been shown to have a harmful impact on Native American high school students’ feelings about themselves, their community and their academic possibilities.
- Media depictions of Native Americans can influence how Native people see themselves. Some may be motivated to identify with representations, even if they are inaccurate, “simply because one representation is better than no representation.”
(“Frozen in Time”: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding Authors Peter A. Leavitt, Rebecca Covarrubias, Yvonne A. Perez, Stephanie A. Fryberg)
"Our stories are our survival.
That's why it's so important to us that we get a chance to tell them ourselves. That's why some of us are lobbying – hard – for dedicated funds to tell our stories. Because for us, this isn't about making a movie deal or getting a network series, this is about our survival, and Canada's – because if you think this nation can exist without Indigenous people, then you just haven't been paying attention."
-Jesse Wente, broadcaster, activist and Director of Film Programmes for TIFF
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