Quoted: An Open Letter To Michelle Williams


In The Nation, Aura Bogado offers an open letter actress Michelle Williams, who donned braids, feathers, and face paint on the cover of AnOther magazine, in an apparent effort to appear Native American.

By wearing a braided wig and donning feathers, and calling that “Native American” in a photo shoot, you’re perpetuating the lazy idea that Natives are all one and the same. Because you were born and spent your childhood in Montana, I expected more from you. Montana is home to seven reservations, where Natives from more than a dozen state or federally recognized tribes and nations reside—each with its own history, culture and language.

The United States federally recognizes and has established government-to-government ties with nearly 600 Native nations. And while these nations share in common that they constitute the people who descend from the continent’s original inhabitants, they are otherwise unique (and not one of those nations wears braided wigs and feathers as if to represent their people). By dressing up as an imaginary Native, you’re working to conceal both the history and the presence of real ones.

I suppose that, had you chosen to wear a headdress, it may have been worse—but the critique remains the same. As Adrienne Keene eloquently points out, playing Indian not only promotes stereotypes, but violates profound spiritual significances, is tantamount to wearing blackface and prolongs a violent history of genocide and colonialism. You’ve done all of that with your photo-shoot costume. Read more…

  • http://twitter.com/dachevision SM∆LLS

    I don’t think the point of Michelle William’s look is to appear Native American more than it is to appear to be “Chola” or the Mexican-American gang style. In my opinion, if the intention was to appear Native American, she/the stylist didn’t do a great job here. And I think the writer from The Nation was reaching.

    • 54cranberries

      I would urge you to follow the read-more link and read Ms Bogado’s entire letter. She states she was willing to let the photo go as offensive but not worth the effort to make a call out until reading an interview with Ms Williams as regards what she found opened -a-window for interpreting the Glinda character.

      Apparently Ms Williams read a biography about Mr Baum :

      “But in learning of Baum’s interest in the suffragette movement as
      well as in Native American rights, she ultimately found herself opening a
      window onto characters she might otherwise have found unrelatable.

      “Quadlings, Tinkers and Munchkins didn’t mean much to me; it wasn’t
      my language,” Williams said of the groups of misfits her character
      benevolently rules over. “But when I thought of them as Native Americans
      trying to inhabit their land or about women getting the right to vote,
      it made a lot more sense.” ”


      There are a series of arguments about Mr Baum, who wrote at least 2 inflammatory editorials(no matter who you are/were they are were/inflammatory) after the killing of Sitting Bull, which revolve around whether he was an overt racist or a writer trying to shake up his readers as to the disgusting attitudes towards indigenous peoples of his place and time.

      She may well be unaware of this set of problems surrounding Mr Baum’s ideas/attitudes but asserting that her “language” includes some meaningful notion of “Native Americans trying to inhabit their land” and that that was useful to her interpretation of her movie character hits the big red bell on top of the BS meter on all the fronts Ms Bogado hits on and some more I can think of.

      (I won’t put words in her mouth as ” groups of misfits her character benevolently rules over” comes from the interviewer. We don’t know if SHE said that in tying suffragettes and Native peoples to her interpretation but I found it pretty disgusting all by itself )

      I’m old and live in Alaska, far from whatever the world of style/fashion for its own sake is, so perhaps I see this photo very differently than many who visit here. Without reading a word, with no idea who Ms Williams is/was until I did read some here, the photo struck me as a hipster take on all the “squaws” of movies of my youth… which had nothing to do with real Native women then either.

    • 10100111001

      so since she wasnt in shortie buckskin dress it doesnt count?

  • Keith

    Yeah but she’s like 1/64 Cherokee, so I don’t know what you all are complaining about.