Politely acknowledging Native America is not enough for Stanford Ph.D. and assistant professor at the Reynolds School, Myrton Running Wolf. “We need to talk about how to fix the problems of erasure and invisibility … to address the on-going epidemic of exclusion and the lack of diversity in mainstream media,” Running Wolf said.
Stanford University’s Theater and Performance Studies Department and Native American Cultural Center asked Dr. Running Wolf to assemble a panel of scholars willing to tackle the lack of American Indian participation in popular culture for an upcoming academic conference titled “5 Minutes of History, 55 Minutes of Action: Building Engagement for American Indian Theater.”
The conference will be held on the Stanford University campus on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in the Nitery Theaater and will feature lawyer/playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, J.D., artist/scholar Courtney Elkin Mohler, Ph.D. and artist/scholar Christy Stanlake, Ph.D.
As the title suggests, the conference will only briefly address the root causes of the scarcity of Native Americans in mainstream media production. Instead, the focus will be advancing real-world strategies intended to cultivate greater exposure for this marginalized population within the entertainment industry. The roundtable will discuss Academy Award winner Frances McDormand’s “Inclusion Rider” strategy as well as other potential fixes offered by expert media researchers at the University of Southern California and Columbia University.
“For me, we need better understandings of the invisibility of all marginalized communities,” Running Wolf said.
At first, Running Wolf was hesitant that a panel of professional academics would be able to constructively communicate effective solutions in front of a university audience. During similar meetings, he witnessed fixation on cultural preservation, histories of colonization and repression as well as indigenous victimization.
“These are important conversations, but what are the solutions? I don’t know. That’s what USC and Columbia University are doing. They have things that we actually can try but, honestly, their solutions are incredibly unpopular,” Running Wolf said, pointing out the lack of traction that McDormand’s “Inclusion Rider”, USC’s Inclusion Initiative and Columbia’s diversity research have had on the entertainment industry
These solutions are worth discussing only if they bring real change to underrepresented communities. To do so, the topic must be engaging and equitable for audience members.
“Mainstream media shapes the way that we see ourselves, the way that we see others and the way others see us. It also shapes our society, our government and our public policies,” Running Wolf said. “Too often when we have these conversations, we ask actors and celebrities. Yeah, okay, these are the most visible American Indians out there, but it hasn’t worked. Getting the folksy opinions of individuals beholden to unfair corporate behemoths doesn’t work,” Running Wolf said. “We have problems to solve … Let’s get together and have real conversations about real issues and come up with workable answers.”
To continue the conversation and promote further engagement from academic scholars, the Reynolds School’s Dr. Gi Woong Yun and Dr. Running Wolf are looking to host the same panelists here at the University of Nevada, Reno. The panelists will build upon their Stanford University conversation during a follow-up academic conference to be scheduled at a later date.