Dartmouth Grad Quits Adam Sandler Film

Sunday, April 26, 2015
Hanover — A 2013 Dartmouth College film and media studies major was among the Native American extras to walk off the set of an Adam Sandler production on Wednesday, citing the film’s offensive character names, costumes and scenes.

Allie Young, 25, a member of the Navajo tribe and an aspiring screen writer, said she had taken the job as a background actor in the Adam Sandler and Allen Covert production, The Ridiculous Six, in order to meet some big names in the industry and perhaps help to ensure that the film accurately depicts Native Americans.

Young, who did not receive a copy of the script before filming, said she was interested to see whether Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans has changed since the old westerns. “You always hope it might be different,” she said.

Unfortunately, she said, she learned that “background actors can’t do much at all” to influence a production.

During filming of the Netflix-only release, which began Monday, Young said, “it was little things that started adding up.”

In one scene, a female character squats while urinating and smoking a peace pipe, which Young said is sacred.

“It’s tacky and tasteless comedy,” she said.

Actor Loren Anthony told The Associated Press that he and eight others quit the production of the satirical Western after producers ignored their concerns about its portrayal of Apache culture and the inappropriate use of props.

Anthony said the script included offensive names for Native American female characters and a scene where chicken feathers were used on teepees, he said.

“Right from the get-go, it didn’t feel right. But we let it go,” said Anthony, a Navajo actor who started work as an extra on the movie Monday. “Once we found out more about the script, we felt it was totally disrespectful to elders and Native women.”

The film is a comedy designed to lampoon stereotypes, Netflix said.

“The movie has ‘ridiculous’ in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous,” a company statement released by Netflix said. “It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of — but in on — the joke.”

A spokesman for Sandler’s Manchester, N.H.-based production company, Happy Madison Productions, didn’t immediately return a telephone message from the AP.

Goldie Tom, another extra who departed the set Wednesday, said producers told the group to leave if they felt offended and that script changes were not up for debate.

“This just shows that Hollywood has not changed at all,” Tom said.

She added the production had a number of non-Native American actors portraying American Indians, a long-standing complaint about the movie industry.

The actors said a Native American consultant hired by the production also walked off the set.

The New Mexico Film Office said Thursday the dispute was a First Amendment issue and the office had no say over the movie’s content.

“As long as the production meets the requirements in the film credit statute, there is nothing prohibiting them from filming in New Mexico and receiving the rebate,” the office said in a statement.

Outgoing Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly lauded the extras’ decision.

“Our Native American culture and tradition is no joking matter,” Shelly said. “I applaud these Navajo actors for their courage and conviction to walk off the set in protest.”

David Hill, 74, a Choctaw actor from Oklahoma who left the set, said he thought the film industry was heading toward better portrayal of American Indians before this experience.

“Over the years, we have seen change. Then this,” Hill said. “We told them, ‘Our dignity is not for sale.’ ”

Young, the Dartmouth graduate, said the film’s depiction of alcohol perpetuated stereotypes, rather than bucking them.

“My main concern is the youth and the future,” she said.

Young is co-founder of Survival of the First Voices Festival, a summer event in her native Farmington, N.M., focused on using art and media to change the way Native Americans are represented. The festival is intended to address the struggles with suicide, alcohol and drug abuse experienced by Native American youth, “who feel sometimes ashamed of who they are because of these stereotypes,” she said.

The challenge faced by young Native Americans is personal for Young, whose younger brother took his own life at the age of 17.

Young said she would like Adam Sandler to comment on the extras’ concerns and she hopes Netflix, which is set to distribute the film, might consider pulling it.

“I’m glad we went,” she said. “We saw this and it’s not OK.”

She said her own goals for the future include writing “films that are about the 21st century Native Americans — who we are today.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.