It's early morning and I'm walking through midtown Manhattan on my way to the 2014 Media Summit also known as -- deep breath -- The International Conference on Television, Broadband, Social Media, Mobile, Advertising, Cable, Telco's, Publishing, Radio & Marketing, Print Media, News Media, Motion Pictures and Games.
Having worked as a film/television producer for 17 years, I'm fascinated, almost feverishly obsessed with the radical changes in the entertainment industry. Confabs like these are to me what Vidcon is to YouTubers.
Click clacking along in my heels, heart pounding with anticipation amongst a sea of men in dark suits, I navigate my way into a room where a panel discussion will be held on video content and distribution platforms. I notice an executive from Nielsen is on the panel, his job description reading something along the lines of "Consumer Insights and Building Strategic Relationships." With baited breath I watch the demographic pie charts flash on the screen during the presentation and then, my heart drops.
I'm not in the pie. None of my people, culturally speaking, are in the pie.
The panel ends, I walk up to him and say, "Excuse me, may I ask you a question? Why aren't Native Americans included in the entertainment sector demographics?" He replies, "Do they have cell phones?" "Yes, of course we have cell phones," I said, tempted to pull out my iPhone before remembering that I just cracked my screen and might not make the best impression. Then he asks, "Do they watch TV?" "Yes, we watch television."
We both stand there with perplexed looks on our faces for completely different reasons until he finally says, "Well, my clients (major advertisers) never ask for Native Americans. They are such a small demographic...perhaps they are folded into the Hispanic market."
He graciously gives me his card, I fumble for mine to give him in return as I attempt to put together pieces of a puzzle that has baffled me for decades.
As a young girl growing up on the reservation, and later after my mom and I hopped a bus and headed to Los Angeles in my early teens, I devoured television just like every other American kid. I even got the Kristy McNichol haircut, which made me feel well, kind of cool. Deep down I was always looking for someone I could identify with and say, "I want to be just like her!" I looked for a story that showed people who lived like us or looked like us. I watched and waited...it never happened. I couldn't help but wonder why. That burning question drove me to pursue a producing career: Don't bellyache about the problem if you're not ready to be part of the solution, right?
This brief exchange with the exec had answered a huge part of the question of why Native Americans aren't, nor have ever been, represented in mainstream media in any kind of long-term or meaningful way.
We're not in the pie. We don't count. There aren't enough of us to matter.
But we do matter. We should count.
According to FCC rules, content is to be broadcast to "all the people of the United States without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex;" a sentient reader would assume said people would like to hear and see what appeals to them -- they want to hear their stories, see their faces and hear their voices.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not waiving the flag screaming that we deserve to be in the pie just because we're Native Americans, dammit! I'm waiving the flag screaming like a good producer running into a pitch meeting with the latest draft of a killer script saying, this is a great story, let's get it made!
Native Americans deserve to be in the pie because our stories are fresh, interesting and relevant. And the way we tell them is engaging and distinctive. Appealing not only to our small but mightily loyal population (60 percent of whom represent the coveted millennial demographic), but to the mainstream audience as well.
Look for a moment beyond the recent Pharrell-in-an-Indian-headdress controversy at why UK Vogue chose it. That headdress said something in a way that a beret or a fedora or a cowboy hat couldn't -- evidently Khloe Kardashian felt the same way but needed to throw in a tipi for good measure.
Or watch the recent episode of A&E's Longmire, entitled "Miss Cheyenne." Pay particular attention to the performances of the Native actors and it will be immediately clear:
We don't need to be "folded" into any demographic. We, as Native Americans, are our own unique ingredient.
Small yes, but exquisitely tasty. Sort of like a currant.
Now put us in the pie, dammit.
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