Last week, a group of Native American actors walked off the set of an Adam Sandler production for Netflix, “The Ridiculous Six,” on grounds that the attempted parody of the Old West is demeaning and insulting to Native Americans. They were joined by the project’s cultural advisor.
Alyssa Rosenberg, pop culture writer for the Washington Post, wrote a piece praising the bravery of the actors, especially given the paucity of parts for Native Americans in the movies. I agree. Putting myself in the actors’ positions, I would find it humiliating to utter those lines. (If someone wrote something like that for Asian Americans, I wouldn’t want anything to do with it.)
Netflix claims that the diverse characters are “in on” the jokes, which would make a difference if true. However, as the script segment posted by the Indian Country Today Media Network illustrates, Netflix has it very wrong. In making fun of Native Americans, it wreaks of unfunny sexual and toilet humor, using supposedly humorous terms such as “chi wat” and “chungo,” that — at least according to my Google search — aren’t part of any Indian language. (For more of the same, see these script portions shared by Jordan Sargent on Gawker.com.)
In a video clip posted with Rosenberg’s piece, actor Loren Anthony called the experience “bullying on another level.” Maybe his use of the term is different than how I typically employ it on this blog, but his point is well taken. One can easily understand why the actors stood up for their dignity and left the production.
Especially when it comes to racial and ethnic humor, there is an extraordinarily fine line between genuine parody and the furthering of demeaning stereotypes. Only the most gifted comedy writers can pull it off.
Mel Brooks, as exemplified by “The Producers” and “Blazing Saddles,” is among that small, gifted group. Adam Sandler is not. He should go back to making the vacuous movies that are his calling card, but hopefully with less offensive content.
As for Netflix, this is a disappointment. They’ve led the way on streaming productions, but this one is a tasteless clunker in the making.