Such conflict within my soul! Oh the torment! On one hand, the acting in this TV movie is just excellent. Mercedes Ruehl, the lead, is wonderful as Rebecca, as is her husband (Jamey Sheridan), the ever good-lookin Ned Romero as her dad, and Julia McIlvaine as her eldest daughter. So that makes it hard for me to say that the casting ruined the movie.
I simply could *not* get past the fact that Ruehl is supposed to be a full-blood Dine. I was so confused when I realized that neither her mom nor dad was supposed to be white--I assumed the character was half-white. Maybe possibly sorta kinda (given the unpredictability of genetics) Ruehl could pass as half-Dine, but even that's pushing it. She isn't Native at all, although she could certainly 'pass' as a quarter. But not Navajo! (For that matter, a bunch of the Indian actors don't look Navajo at all, but I can get past that because it's so normal (Irene Bedard has played a Navajo role a zillion times, but even she and the other sisters, including the awesome Tamara Podemski, look nothing alike). Even worse, the girl who plays the young Rebecca looks so white that it's jarring to see her in a shot with her birth mother, all while knowing that her dad is supposed to be Ned Romero (who does look Navajo in his old age). I would also complain about casting Julia McIlvaine as her elder daughter, who clearly isn't half Dine but rather could've stepped right off the Nina, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria (the younger daughter could presumably have just gotten 80% recessive genes, but she wasn't very convincing either). But this is based on a true story, and indeed, I do know mixed-race families where someone impossibly comes out with blondish hair (like my cousin)...and then there are all those 1/128 blonde Cherokees, of course. But STILL! So hard to get past. And, as great as Mercedes Ruehl was, there are plenty of excellent Native actresses her age who could've been casted instead. Why not Sheila Tousey? She could have totally pulled off this character (and is light-skinned enough to be convincingly racially ambiguous in her prior life). Enough complaining, but I hate that I can't put this on my Good Indian Movies list (see my Listmania) because of this glaring problem. Tragic! Indeed!
On the other hand, because this is based on a true story, there's a great deal of non-Hollywood realism here that I really appreciated. Aside from the totally cheesy Hallmark soundtrack and Wise Indian Elder lines they made Tantoo Cardinal say, the relationships and family dynamics played out with such genuineness, and that's what really makes you care about the story. The cultural dissonance played out really effectively, too, and had enough tension to make you feel it and invest in the characters more. (Although--I felt that some of that dissonance was presented in too much of a one-sided way and could make white viewers see Navajo culture in a negative light.) I'm torn (oh woe!) on the last positive, too...I thought they presented a really broad sense of life on that particular rez from the average school to the community center, but there were also times when I also felt they were kinda making things seem more 'exotic' than they really are. I mean, where were the schoolkids listening to rap? Where was the bingo? But as a whole, I thought the story was engaging and well told. I'm interested in checking out the book now.
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