By Nadia Dalimonte
Thomas King in Inconvenient Indian (2020)
Most of Indigenous history in North America has been erased. What we’re left with are artifacts. Voiceless objects from the past, as narrated in this documentary. History is not necessarily the past itself, but more specifically the stories we tell about the past. Inconvenient Indian is an insightful, eye opening documentary looking at Indigenous history and North American culture as a powerful tool of misrepresenting Indigenous culture. Director Michelle Latimer’s visual storytelling is incredibly resonating.
The documentary is based on Thomas King’s award winning 2012 book, 'The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America'. King provides his narration and also appears in the documentary. One particular moment shows him sitting in a movie theater, popcorn in hand, as though seeing what the audience of Inconvenient Indian are watching. What is being seen? Latimer balances an extraordinary array of various storytelling techniques. She seamlessly shifts from one medium to another, including archival footage, visual arts, dance, and interviews.
Among Latimer’s subjects are community workers, filmmakers, and hunters. Every frame has a cinematic element and a strong representation of the height of inconvenience for colonialism: an Indigenous person living exactly as they have. While there is a strong celebration of cultural memories, which are resonating to watch, one of the most eye opening aspects of the documentary is what it has to say on the power North American culture has of misrepresenting and erasing Indigenous living. As narrated in the doc, there is a severe invisibility that comes with looking and acting like the Indians the media has in mind.
Latimer also focuses on Indigenous experiences within multiple industries, such as the art and gaming world. Within the gaming industry in particular, the doc introduces university students who are developing tools to populate spaces with people who look like them. Students are learning how to make their own video games, building technology from the ground up and embedding their values into the technology. This aspect is one of many ways representation shines through in this documentary. Representation not only matters, it is essential. Inconvenient Indian is an essential documentary to watch, in order to take the necessary step to understanding Indigenous stories and being acutely aware of the harmful colonial systems that still exist today.