Two-Spirit Film Criticism: Fancydancing with Imitates Dog, Desjarlais and Alexie

Article excerpt

In our old way, the Two-Spirit People were very important to our ancestors because they could see the world in a way the rest of the people couldn't. That's what made them wise and strong. Just like you. (Unci in Two Spirits, One Journey)

In the epigraph, a Lakota grandmother (Unci) accepts her Two-Spirit grandson on film and makes a powerful statement about the increasing value of Two-Spirit traditions in contemporary Native North American cinema. (1) Two-Spirit Studies rises out of such family conversations. It also builds upon Two-Spirit nationalisms and grass-root organizations, Native American Studies, and multidisciplinary queer, feminist, and ethnic discourses. As new Two-Spirit films emerge from growing Two-Spirit cultural movements, overlapping Two-Spirit and queer Native film criticisms also develop to distinguish the evolving representations in these recent films. While both Two-Spirit and queer Native film criticisms note Native American resistance to white and Native American heterosexisms in cinema, TwoSpirit film criticism draws more awareness to specific nationalist, traditionalist and community-oriented perspectives of TwoSpirit peoples. Intersecting queer and Native film criticisms tend to apply broader white or multicultural queer theory to Native representations of gender and sexuality. In order to articulate Indigenous filmmakers' explorations of Two-Spirit and queer Native American experiences, this essay engages ideas from Qwo-Li Driskill, Lisa Tatonetti and Quentin Youngberg. Two Spirit critiques allow an appreciation of how Imitates Dog's Two Spirits, One Journey and Desjarlais' Two-Spirited short films embrace the Two-Spirit traditions, communities and spiritualities that Alexie's The Business of Fancydancing ultimately cannot as a queer Native movie.

Before applying Two-Spirit and queer Native film criticism to these three films, a clearer understanding of the term Two-Spirit and the call for action around it is necessary. The 1990 International Two-Spirit Gathering originally popularized the term Two-Spirit, borrowing from a Northern Algonquian term "niizh manitoag (Two-Spirits)" that "indicates the presence of both a feminine and a masculine spirit in one person" (Driskill 72). It arose in a time of Native American, AIDS and queer activisms. The current Two-Spirit Gathering webpage further defines Two-Spirit people as those "who...have traditional respected roles within most Aboriginal cultures and societies.., some also identify as being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender [GLBT]" (LaFortune). Qwo-Li Driskill claims "Native histories, politics, and decolonial struggles" differentiate Two-Spirit theoretical critiques from other queer critiques (71). S/he is mindful of the erasure of Two-Spirit traditions and roles in most people of color and white queer writings even as s / he notes how both queer and Two-Spirit critiques voice the need to challenge "heteropatriarchal dominance and notions, gender binaries, and the policing and control of sexualized and gendered bodies" (71). In order to address the differences between queer and Two-Spirit, Driskill adds several categories of inquiry specific to Two-Spirit critiques. S/he notes that Two-Spirit critiques define "identities in relationship with spirituality and medicine" of specific Native traditions (85). S/he also specifies the need for Two-Spirit "artistic and activist work" to remain accountable to overlapping communities of Native American "nations" and "Native urban spaces" (81). For Driskill, Two-Spirit critiques align with Native feminisms "by seeing sexism, homophobia, and transphobia as colonial tools" (83) and by exploring the decolonial "erotic" (85). Such an articulated sense of queer and Two-Spirit Studies allows this essay to form a Two-Spirit focus on spiritually supported traditions, decolonial eroticisms, community activisms and other challenges to white heteropatriarchy in Two-Spirit and queer Native film. …