Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

A young, gay Anishnabe desperate to get off the reservation

In his first feature film, “Fire Song,” (2015), First Nation (Native American) writer/director Adam Garnett Jones built a morose picture of being young and native on a northern Ontario (or, possibly, Manitoba) Anishnabe reservation around Shane (full-lipped Andrew Martin) a bright teenager who wants to go to college in Toronto, and to escape the confines of living on the reservation. Obstructing his exit are that Destiny, his younger sister, committed suicide just six weeks earlier, and that his mother, Jackie (Jennifer Podemski) has become nearly catatonic and to leave the bedroom of her dead daughter, let alone to leave the house. Shane wants to keep his girlfriend Tara (Mary Galloway) happy without having to commit to having sex with her (even though she has condoms). He is very covertly in love with the closeted David (Harley LeGarde-Beacham) who is in training to be a sort of shaman (medicine man). There is also the problem of money too, as the cash left to him by his father when he died was meant to pay his college tuition, but his mother desperately needs to replace the leaky roof of their family home and won’t release the money to Shane.

David’s mother Evie (Ma-Nee Chacaby) does not accept homosexuality (easily) but is generally supportive of David and Jackie. The tall Kyle (Brendt Thomas Diabo) fag-baits David before his liaison with Shane becomes public and is the villain of the piece in other ways that it would be plot-spoiling to mention. I will note that Shane is blamed for Kyle’s most heinous crime.

The lack of hope, stemming heavily from lack of opportunity in northern Ontario, was also central to “What We Have,” without any First Nations characters (and set in a much larger settlement). I don’t know whether to say that the performers are first-time actors or nonactors. They (and Jones) are all First Nations and aware of the very high suicide rate of First Nations youth, as well as the ubiquity of substance abuse problems. Trying to keep everyone happy (or less miserable), Shane makes no one, least of all himself, happy, though David agrees to go to Toronto with him, where the two living together would not be a scandal. (The acceptance of “two-spirited” males, even with a spiritual vocation, is limited to nonexistent, though Evie eventually resigns herself to David’s partner being Shane.)

The movie is very downbeat, but holds out some hope at the end.

(For me, the classic reservation homophobia move is “The Business of Fancydancing” from the south side of the Canadian-US border.)

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.

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