Some may think conversations about cultural appropriation and proper representation are no longer necessary. That’s yesterday’s news, right? We couldn’t still be making the same mistakes, could we? After watching “IT: Chapter Two,” it’s clear that this assumption is woefully incorrect.
The sequel movie adaptation of Stephen King’s famed novel, “IT: Chapter Two” explains the origin of Pennywise, the terrifying, child-eating clown. We learn that Pennywise is not of this world and the first people to encounter this monster was the indigenous tribe called the “Shokopiwah.”
The Shokopiwah do not, nor have they ever, existed. They are not even the brainchild of Stephen King. This tribe did not make an appearance in King’s novel, published in 1986, nor in the 1990 movie adaptation. Instead, they are a lame inclusion for reasons completely beyond me. A crude creation of 2019 Hollywood producers.
Today, producers have come up with this ridiculous side plot that both creates, exploits and then kills an indigenous tribe all in the frame of two hours. We can’t excuse this bullshit by calling it “dated.”
This whole ordeal tells us that conversations about proper representation are still desperately needed in order to avoid racist and stilted tropes like in “IT: Chapter Two.”
Besides the fictitious aspect, the trope included things that harm real indigenous people and communities today. The mystical and magical elements the writers and directors employed in the film are demeaning to our cultures ceremonies and traditions. Dumbing our sacred practices down to hallucinations and “rituals,” reinforces damaging stereotypes that many people in mainstream society believe to be true about our people.
In the movie, Mike Hanlon went to the tribe and participated in a traditional “ceremony” in which he consumed a root that acted as a hallucinogen in order for him to see the origin of Pennywise through a “vision.” He then stole an artifact made to trap the clown from the tribe and later drugged his childhood friend, Bill.
Not only were the fictitious Shokopiwah exploited and stolen from in the movie, they were also killed and pushed to the outskirts of society. Then of course they were conveniently placed when the main characters needed them. They are a reflection of what indigenous people face today. The creators of the film made no moves to do them any justice, opting to do what everyone does: They took what they waned of these people and forgot about them.
The promotion of incorrect images of Indigenous people is what damages us the most. When people who don’t understand Indigenous people and communities see high profile films such as “IT,” they assume the representation of indigenous people in the movie is factually correct. Really, it is cultural appropriation, misrepresentation and cultural erasure.
These messages are not lost on indigenous communities and indigenous youth. A study published by the Journal of Social Issues in 2015 shows that inaccurate and negative portrayals of indigenous people have severe impacts on how Indigenous youth view themselves and their communities. This same study explained that Indigenous presence in media often depicts indigenous persons as people of the past, modeled after only a few specific tribes. When they are portrayed in modern society, they are often associated with substance abuse issues, poverty and limited education.
While I don’t speak for all indigenous people, I believe the solution for these issues are simple. Consulting with tribes and making efforts to respect and properly represent our cultures will help ensure that indigenous people are reflected correctly in mainstream media. This will allow our communities to have positive self-image and for films to be more inclusive of diverse audiences.