An NDN Watches Adam Sandler's New Movie, The Ridiculous 6, And Wasn't Offended
I just finished watching Adam Sandler’s new movie, the Ridiculous 6, on Netflix. This movie has made news since this spring when about a dozen American Indian actors walked off the set of the movie as it was being filmed near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The actors took to social media to describe their reasoning for leaving. The Native actors felt the movie’s script devalued Native peoples as a whole citing various instances of cultural misrepresentation and degredation. Another more specific claim was that the movie devalued Native women through its hypersexualization of them. A lot of noise was made concerning the perceived racism inherent in the movie’s script and many popular media outlets ran the story and commented on it. Filming continued and many American Indian actors (numbering in the hundreds) remained on set defending both the comedy and integrity of the film.
Eight months later, on December 11th 2015, the film was released exclusively on Netflix as the first of four movies that Sandler will make for the online movie streaming company. At the movie’s release, calls of racism and boycotts of Netflix over the movie’s content has flown through various social media channels. Many citing the incidents stated by the initial group of American Indian actors who left the movie’s filming.
Dr. Adrienne Keene, of Native Appropriations, tweeted out a compilation of Ridiculous 6 screenshots gathered by Native artist Gregg Deal.
In those screen shots, several initial scenes of the movie are shown which were meant to show the movie’s racism. A sign on a shop pronounced, “No Injuns Allowed.” Another sign said, “Redskins Keepout.” Several more screenshots showed the initial dialogue of the movie between Sandler’s character, White Knife, and the shopkeeper. Predictably, the shopkeeper spouted racist sayings, calling Indians “stinking Injuns” and “savages.” Outside of the shop stood White Knife’s fiancé, a Native woman named “Smoking Fox” dressed in buckskin and fringe that a marauding group of bandits approaches. The screenshots gather the ensuing dialogue there as well. The bandits call the female a “Sweet peice of red prairie meat,” and “Poca-hot-tits.” They then approach to assault her before White Knife appears and the normal western stand-off trope begins.
What’s curiously missing from these screenshots that Deal posted is the scene where Sandler as White Knife first addresses the bandits outside of the shop. A slamming door and falling sign catches the attention of the bandits as they are approaching the female. They then turn to see White Knife standing atop the fallen sign that said, “No Injuns Allowed.” This scene is well within the sequence of screenshots that Deal posted, but was not included. It is a quick scene, so maybe it was missed during the compilation. But this introductory sequence of events showcases the movie’s treatment of American Indians. Yes, there is a lot of racist jargon aimed towards and about Indians. Yes, it is all confined to the specific time period of the movie. And yes, Indians are as much the butt of the joke as they are a part of making jokes. However, the general treatment of American Indians in this movie does not warrant, in my opinion, the drastic calls of racism that it has received because those who say the derogatory language referring to Indians are shown as idiots or buffoons and quickly have the scene turn on them.
Now, that is not to say that there aren’t valid concerns. Proper representation of Native peoples is a fight that continues to be fought. It’s also a worthy fight. Much still needs to be done to show the general public that American Indians are still here, that we are modern (not solely historical mythology), and that we have an important voice that is being ignored. It is also not to say that the Indians who walked off the set shouldn’t have. Rather, everyone should follow their conscience no matter what it costs them. If they were offended by the making of the movie, then they should not be a part of it. They are also well within what is right to protest the movie as many have done and continue to do.
All I hope to do is offer a differing view; to offer more of a challenge. To me, this movie was not racist. To me, this movie was not hurtful or offensive. But neither was it fresh, clever, or, honestly, that great of a movie. It was on par with many other Adam Sandler movies. To know his humor is to expect everyone in the movie to be made fun of at some point. Most of the time, the only person who may escape ridicule in these movies is Sandler himself, but that’s not always the case. In the Ridiculous 6, it appears that Sandler escaped the jokes as he played the whole movie straight. Everything else was fair game and everything else was excoriated at some point, except for Sandler.
The movie was also a pure Western. It focused on outlaws. It focused on robberies and the search for justice. Indians were a part of this movie as they are a part of any other Western. They were there in bits and pieces but were ultimately left out of the main portions of the film. Like every Western movie, and like every other “Hollywood” movie, Indians are rarely seen sidekicks and nothing more. In the Ridiculous 6, Sandler was raised by Indians, but ultimately was his own white man. He was taught what was right by the Indians who raised him, but the Indians honestly had very little to do with the story other than to introduce the concept of Native mysticism, or “mystical shit” as the movie called it, which gave Sandler’s character supernatural powers.
The jokes in the movie were adolescent, but that is what one should expect from a Sandler movie. There were some good jokes from the Indians. Lines like Saginaw Grant’s, “Sometimes the white man tells the truth, like 1-in-20…25 times. I think this might be the time.” This joke is funnier now that I’m thinking about it and know the biggest turn of the movie. Another great Indian line was one Indian’s impression of white guys by shuffling awkwardly in place and saying: “Hey guys. Let’s play with our chest hairs and eat potato chips.” That was the best Indian scene of the movie. Tomahawk baby was also quite funny in a few quick appearances. Many other jokes were aimed towards White Knife as an Indian and had “Injun” or some other derogatory saying for Indians. Mexicans received the same treatment with Rob Schneider portraying one of Sandler’s Mexican brothers. And some Asians were stereotyped during the film’s smartest joke involving the creation of baseball. As far as I can remember though, jokes about or towards Blacks were soft and rare even though Terry Crews, a great comedic Black actor, was another brother of Sandler’s.
American Indians make up very little of the movie. A recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican implies that Netflix, the movie’s producer, forced the filmmakers to remove many Indian scenes because of the uproar. If so, I think that act hurt the Native actors and the movie more than helped. I believe that even though there may be some questionable jokes within the movie, that greater exposure of Indian actors would have helped to give the film a freshness about it. I have no idea how much a part of the film the creators wanted Native actors to fill, but if it allowed there to be more scenes with Natives not only being the butt of the jokes but inflicting jokes on others, especially on Sanders and friends, then the movie would have reached something new in film. It would have made a film that has never been made before by a large producer or filmmaker. It would have made a film that had Native actors as not the sidekicks, but as the heroes. Ideally, Sandler’s character would not have been a white orphan as much as a half-Indian, half-white character. Something simple like that would have given the film a little more “authenticity” and clout with American Indians. Now, to have the main character be performed by an actual Indian would be the best solution, but we’ll have to continue to take these small steps until we reach the point where we can take our larger steps.
I don’t believe the digital protests over the movie will stop. Nor am I really trying to get people to stop. Ultimately though, I think this was the wrong battle to fight so voraciously. The Native actors could have been better served by our support for them and the movie would have been better with our push for more scenes with Native actors, not less. I hope the Native actors in this movie get more parts, especially in Sandler’s new films. I hope there was at least one young Native actor, maybe the one impersonating white people, that will be called back to act on more movies; on more comedies. The more Natives we can get in more films, the better chances we have of correcting wrong and stereotypical depictions of Native peoples. Graham Greene has done a lot. Irene Bedard has done a lot. Wes Studi has done a lot. Adam Beach has done a lot. Let’s get more of them on screen rather than scare away any filmmakers, studios, or producers from making movies involving Natives. Instead of removing ourselves from the movie, we should have made more of an effort to fill the movie. This seems the better way.