At the end of Wind River, text scrawls across the screen. After a gruelling and tasking film, albeit brilliant, it tells us that the FBI does not keep tabs of missing Native Woman. As this melts into the credits, the film leaves a weight and a bitter aftertaste.
Taylor Sherdian is an accomplished filmmaker. His work has been met with critical acclaim, earning him an Academy Award nomination in screenwriting for his work on Hell or High Water. But he has a problem with writing women, and with Wind River he does a disservice to the culture he is trying to capture.
“There is no reason why this story needs to be told from the point of view of a white man.”
Wind River revolves around US Marshal Corey Lambert, hunting down the killer of local young woman. He finds Natalie, whose parents he knows, beaten, raped, and frozen through the show. Enlisting the help of FBI Agent Jane Banner, Lambert makes it his mission to find the killer.
Lambert is an apt hero but he is riddled with issues: he is a white man who straddles the world of the Native Americans because he was married to an indigenous woman, having children together. It’s through Corey’s eyes that we follow the tale and that is where the problem lies. Both women and minorities are struggling to find stories of their own in Hollywood. There is no reason why this story needs to be told from the point of view of a white man.
“Women, and especially Native American, women deserve better because they are human beings – not because of their relationship to men.”
It is an echo of that go to argument: “But what if it’s your daughter?” No. Sit down. Women, and especially Native American women, deserve better because they are human beings – not because of their relationship to men. And to not show this in cinema is poor, especially when you consider that it is a voice so lacking in mainstream Hollywood.
Without Elizabeth Olsen in this film, there would be only four women who are a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and the poor victim Natalie. Between these Native American actresses and characters, there are about ten minutes of dialogue. There is even a scene where the mother of Natalie is shown self-harming whilst violently sobbing. She says NOTHING throughout the film. Everything that happens in this film is to service the pain and anguish of a man and this type of writing needs to stop.
“You can showcase your message to a wider audience without silencing those you are trying to help.”
It just feels sloppy. You can showcase your message to a wider audience without silencing those you are trying to help. There are smaller roles that could been developed, bigger dialogue between the women, and absolutely no self-harm scene with a distraught mother who says exactly zero lines in a film about her daughter’s death. I mean, the easiest solution is to change Elizabeth Olsen’s heritage. Cast a Native American in that role, make her somewhat an outsider, take us on a journey through her eyes seeing what is happening to those forced upon this reservations and uncovering the truth about missing Native American women.
It is a tricky web to weave and Sheridan’s film doesn’t feel like it comes from a place of malice; you can tell that this is a matter he has crafted from compassion and experience, trying to get to the empathy of the audience as the story unveils. But with the large amount of films that focus the rape and murder of women for the anguish of a man, and lack of lines for the Native American woman you trying to help, Sheridan himself becomes part of the problem, as though he slapped the text on as an afterthought.
Whilst Wind River is a powerful film, you’ll leave with an icy feeling….