When you think “Adam Sandler” and “Western,” you expect only the best, historically accurate, culturally sensitive comedy. Right? Unfortunately, since we don’t live in an alternate reality, where up is down, bad means good, and Adam Sandler is “smart comedy,” that is not the case.
On Wednesday, a group of Native American actors and a cultural adviser walked off the set of Sandler’s new movie, The Ridiculous Six, in response to the insulting portrayal of Native women, elders, and the Apache culture. Indian Country Today Media Network reports the script contains appalling depictions of Apache women, including names like “Beaver’s Breath” and “No Bra.” One actress had been instructed to squat and urinate while smoking a peace pipe.
Loren Anthony, a member of the Navajo Nation and an actor who left the production, told ICTMN, “I was asked a long time ago to do some work on this and I wasn’t down for it. Then they told me it was going to be a comedy, but it would not be racist.” Happy Madison, Sandler’s production company, had hired a cultural adviser, and Anthony says producers assured him they would make an effort to portray Native Americans tastefully.
Dartmouth film grad Allison Young joined the film after her professor encouraged her to use this as an opportunity to study stereotyping. “We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave’ … This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way … Nothing has changed. We are still just Hollywood Indians.”
Indeed, Hollywood rarely portrays Native Americans outside of the common stereotypes—the stoic Indian, the bloodthirsty warrior, the beautiful maiden, and the magical medicine man. Ridiculous Six perpetuates these ideas instead of amplifying awareness of Native American culture and history. But would you expect a responsible portrayal of marginalized people from Happy Madison? After all, this is the same production company that brought you Blended, The Waterboy, and basically every character Rob Schneider plays in all of these movies.
“Our dignity is not for sale,” says actor and activist David Hill. “We understand this is a comedy, we understand this is humor, but we won’t tolerate disrespect.”
The film, written by Sandler and long-time writing partner Tim Herlihy, is set for a Netflix-only release. It will star Sandler, Nick Nolte, Steve Buscemi, Dan Aykroyd, Jon Lovitz, Rob Schneider, and Vanilla Ice.
Update 10:40am CT, April 27: Hollywood Reporter released a cellphone video this weekend of a conversation between producers and Native Americans in which the former recommends the latter leave the production “if you are overly sensitive.” Another voice chimes in suggesting that “you guys are the good guys” and that other groups are in fact the target of ridicule.
Here’s the full clip.