Olivia Ellis: Understanding Native Visibility

Albert Gallatin statue outside of US Treasury Building

My research trip officially ended at the beginning of this month, but I’ve hardly stopped thinking about it since. When I describe the project to people, they usually ask if it has anything to do with my concentration. At first, I told people it wasn’t really related, but I realize now that that’s not true. I’m not an anthropologist or sociologist, so this type of research seems a little out of left field for me, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want to do with my life after graduation (which is coming up terrifyingly soon), and I realize that this research has everything to do with my dreams for my future.

When I envision what I want most for my career, it has everything to do with making changes in the film industry. I want to be part of the generation who changes the way people are represented on screen; namely, I want more people of color, more women, and more substantial roles for both. I think it would be irresponsible of me to throw myself into this industry, with this goal in mind, without doing everything I can to learn about and understand the people I want to represent. More crucially, I think the connections I’m making can be an important step in enabling people to represent themselves–I want to tell stories, but I think it’s more important that I use my privilege (and whatever clout I eventually hope to have) to pave the way for more people to tell their own stories.

Over the past month, I have spoken with members of the Lumbee, Creek, Cherokee, Shoshone-Bannock, and Navajo tribes, as well as with Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. There is so much more to say about everyone I met than I could ever describe here, but I think my biggest takeaway is that none of the people I met represented the experience of all indigenous Americans, or all members of their respective tribes. Of course, I didn’t expect that to be the case. I think few people would. So why do we accept that type of representation in popular media? With the voices and support of all the amazing people I met on my trip, I’m hoping to change that.

One thought on “Olivia Ellis: Understanding Native Visibility

  1. I love the way you’re relating your research to your concentration, Olivia! You articulate here many things that I have spent a lot of time considering myself. Specifically, I think that experiencing for yourself all of the contradictions and subtleties that exist between different groups of people who are so often homogenized is a great start to you being able to help change that and I can’t wait to see how you begin to do that.

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