Don’t look away at any moment. Prey (2022), directed by Dan Trachtenberg, is a beautifully shot and realized film strategically different than its predecessors, arguably far outshining them in depth of story and character. Other reviews will take you through the cinematography, direction or dissection of fight scenes, symbolism and the new Predator appearance, and inevitably to Eurocentric based criticisms.
While never forgetting the range of emotions experienced watching PREY as any viewer might, this spoiler free review will provide resourced knowledge and facts on certain intercultural, European and Native topics relating to the film and its production, for those wanting to expand their minds beyond the stereotypes and mis/disinformation still being taught about Native cultures, peoples and history. Note, references and resources follow the main review by Red Haircrow.
Traditions vs. Stereotypes
Set in 1719, in what was renamed North America by European colonizers despite Indigenous peoples having their own names for it, the story centers on a young Comanche woman named Naru who is played by Amber Midthunder. Naru wishes to be more than a gatherer and caregiver, she wishes to also be recognized as a hunter, which some viewers have surmised to suggest she was a “Two-spirit” person (1). Not necessarily. To my understanding, the characters in film never say this about Naru, but unlike European interpretation and stereotypes of Native life (and even their own pre-colonialization millenia), each member of the community needed a wide range of skills, for example, sewing, gathering and knowing healing items, finding and cooking food, to building and animal husbandry. Tasks were not gender-specific/only, a practice of labeling to support patriarchy, hierarchies and discrimination shared and enforced by Christians first in Europe, then in the Americas (2).
In PREY, Naru goes beyond the new troupish practice in film (or video games) of centering a (usually white) female character able to fight and defeat even the toughest opponent, singly or in groups. Naru is beyond the practice of simply replacing the typically white male lead with a woman, without changing the way the story is written, and how the characters and their experiences are portrayed or exaggeratedly representing “empowerment” through adoption of the self-same, most problematic characteristics of toxic masculinity. With her loyal dog companion at her side, in Naru we see a young woman who wasn’t required to be scantily-clad “Pocahantas” style, (who was a child during the events portrayed by Disney, who was subjected to child rape, kidnapping & an early death at barely 20yrs old), and who is vulnerable at times, yet also brilliantly shows resilience, ingenuity and intelligence rarely accorded women of color in film, especially Native American or Indigenous women. If included at all in films or TV series, Native American women are stereotypically and overwhelmingly portrayed as drug addicts, rape victims and/or are subjected to violence, often very graphically and in ways (also rarely done) to female actors of primarily European heritage (3).
In the film, some objectors to Naru’s official recognition as a hunter, as she was obviously proficient and known for her prowess, were fear for her safety, but others showed active resentment, which may or may not have been influenced by the changing social dynamics influenced by contact with white men. By 1719, even this far west there would have been news or contact, some extensive, with European explorers, traders and trappers and the priests/historians often accompanying them. From the beginning, both Natives and Europeans recorded the refusal of most Europeans to respect, and in some cases, even acknowledge Native women’s important roles in their communities, voicing derision and shock at how they were leaders, commerce heads and spiritual guides. Such ones were relegated to a perpetual subservient role, in print and in practice, which some ill-disposed Native men (past and present) decided to accept against traditional Native values and worldviews (4).
For the first time in watching Predator films, even since the first movie headed by Arnold Schwarzenegger (and perhaps still my favorite), it occurred to me the wastefulness of the Predator’s way, as was perhaps intended, as compared to a similar prideful colonizer way, the “take & waste” for sport and without anything resembling true respect. However, this particular Predator was different than we’ve seen in such films as 2004’s, “Alien vs. Predator” or read about in novels like “Predator: Hunter’s Planet” (1994), they have their own personalities and differences, too. Their own interpretation of the Predator code.
Very early in the film, viewers may not have been surprised to see a trap, but that is metal and secured by hammered metal links in what first appears unspoiled nature, its silent presence might introduce dread in anyone, but especially Indigenous hearts. It is an alien device in their world. Thus, anyone might rightly deduce we will see both two kinds of predators in PREY, and a juxtaposition of what type is worse, the big, fanged jawed warrior we’re used to in the series or the more insidious, genocidal type more often heroized in film and western society. Indeed, the European language speaking predators wants and goals are different than the extraterrestrial alien’s, and as history has shown, without restriction to age, threat-level or location.
This incarnation of the Predator series also portrays the reality, which other genres also show, i.e. that “not all European invaders/settlers were the same”, which really goes without saying, as an individual(s) of any group is not the same as all others in that group. This is clearly highlighted when one presumed Frenchman says as much. The problem then and now is, more Europeans (American or otherwise) mostly still follow and even elect some of the worst examples of humanity, mostly due to fear (even paranoia) of the unknown and self-interest: as long as they remain at least a little “above” marginalized and minoritized peoples and groups, they get to keep a certain privilege (at least in their own minds). Yet they lose their spirits and any connection to a healthy culture, which too often results in cultural appropriation (which we’ll talk about later) from the very peoples and cultures they collectively nearly destroyed. Although their demographic has the near total majority of structural power, they never stand up against their peers, the minority of bullies, too often siding with these against any who try to stand up against injustice, inequity and violence (5).
More on Fetishization, Cultural Appropriation & the Importance of Native Women
Living in Germany in as I have the past years, and often working or commenting directly on Native American fetishization, reductionism, cultural appropriation and its roots, racism and Eurocentrism, such as in my 2018 documentary, “Forget Winnetou! Loving in the Wrong Way”, in contemplating to view (but especially) and review PREY, I felt both eagerness and reluctance. Even more Europeans who willfully defend racist practices and behaviors will use the opportunity to add justification to their Indianthusiasm, “playing Indian” and dressing up. Others will consume it to recreate facets of it, perfect their playacting, or as fodder for Halloween costumes come October. You’ll have those critiquing it to boost their status of “Indian expert” (no such things), saying, “this and that is accurate, but so-and-so isn’t!”, while a certain type of film director will think of past productions or plan for future projects about “Indians”, failing to understand the critical need of humility, planning with, having equal decision-making power and the support of Native nations or organizations/associations, not just a few Indians being paid to do what they’re told.
In all of that, mostly Native women are left out of any equation, past and present. They are erased, silenced, demeaned, reduced, absent from the importance they play in history and today. In the volumes Europeans have written, the film productions, in pop culture they’re shown as “Indian maidens” or “Pocahotties”. Native women and girls are fetishized, hypersexualized, infantilized and further subjected to abuse, assault and murder epidemically, especially if they dare speak up, show strength or seek to regain their rightful places of leadership, authority and wisdom to BALANCE perspectives, lifestyles and authorities with others, the men and Two-Spirit. In western society especially, Native women have especially been treated the way men have treated the Earth, most notably and accurately described in this quote.
“They treat Mother Earth like they treat women… They think they can own us, buy us, sell us, trade us, rent us, poison us, rape us, destroy us, use us as entertainment and kill us. I’m happy to see that we are talking about the level of violence that is occurring against Mother Earth because it equates to us [women]. What happens to her happens to us… We are the creators of life. We carry that water that creates life just as Mother Earth carries the water that maintains our life.”Shared from I(Heart) Love Ancestry.com, “Hyper-sexualized Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Women.”
–Lisa Brunner, White Earth Ojibwe
Naru’s story isn’t just a PREY or PREDATOR story, as utterly enthralling, exciting and heartbreaking as many such as myself found it. Watching Naru use her strengths, observational skills and wisdom about her body and environment different than a man might have or could have, to battle a foe of much greater strength was thrilling. It helped renew my fighting, resistant spirit in my here and now, in my life where overwhelming odds and threats are so constant, it is easy to feel hopeless or without worth or possibility. That is exactly what a certain demographic wants marginalized, minoritized or anyone different to feel, whether that’s being neurodivergent, non-heteronormative, of different socio-economic status, heredity or ethnicity or whatever else. They want them to disappear.
Naru’s story is also one of empowerment in a very specific way that should be seen as a message to anyone, but especially men, very much including Native ones. That is, Native women and Two-Spirit persons deserve to regain their places in Native societies and are of benefit in any society or situation. Without their power and influence in Native communities, it may be recognized communities have been slower to heal, less resilient and reliant on Native languages, cultures and traditions which are Medicine, and less able to fight violence, desecration & erasure of Indigenous values and ways, which benefit all. I certainly won’t fail to mention this includes original European groups and Indigenous peoples, and their women and sacred beings also, who were first in the line of fire from Europeans who adopted and violently interpreted Christianity to further their aims of power (6).
PREY is a triumphant film for so many reasons. It was beautiful in so many ways. It’s a great example of how people from the dominant structural power can work together with people from marginalized and minoritized groups in ways THE LATTER feel help correct centuries of misrepresentation and misinformation about instead of reinforcing white supremacist, Eurocentric narratives and behavior.
I highly recommend PREY for anyone of appropriate age, acknowledging there is graphic violence and scenes of death of both human and animals, although not as explicit as seen in previous Predator series.
Disclaimer: This review includes commentary and opinions by Red Haircrow, informed by research, correspondence and extended contact, both personal and professional, with Native academicians, experts, relatives and elders. As clearly seen above and below, references and citations are provided to many, and may more be added in the future. It is not designed nor intended to demean, represent, or speak for any specific Native nation, group or demographic.
Notes and References
(1) “Two-Spirit” is a term collectively created by Native peoples in the 1990s, for those of Native heritage who had more than one spirit, including one that may differ from what their physical form suggested. It can be related to sexuality and gender, and some today who do not truly understand the history or knowledge of it simply equate it to being gay, lesbian, transgender, genderqueer and so forth, but it encompasses all and is specifically none of those things, because being Two-Spirit is an actual role in Native communities, with certain tasks and responsibilities. This is a critical factor why it is a term that should be applied only to Natives, and even more key: only to Natives who are working in such roles in their communities. There are Native LGBTIIQ persons and there are Native Two-Spirit persons. There’s a difference. A Native LBGBTIIQ can become a Two-Spirit, but just being LGBTIIQ doesn’t automatically make them one. Please note, any references or resources should be those clearly, explicitly supported by and stating Indigenous cooperation and solidarity, or by Indigenous sources such as Sadie Heart of the Hawk Ali who is both a matriarch, grandparent and Two-Spirit elder, tribal lead at Zero Suicide and long time mental healthcare practitioner shared. Find one of their presentations here.
(2) The practice of labeling (and disdaining/shunning) gender specific/only was later introduced and enforced by Christians first in Europe, then in the Americas, in which someone who appeared to only be male was expected to do only certain work, certain tasks, and be romantically or sexually attracted solely to the “opposite gender”, and similarly women were supposed to restrict themselves to certain work (goals, ideals, etc.) deemed acceptable for them as the “fairer” but “weaker sex”. For each, this included both spoken and unspoken restrictions about dress, comportment, styles of walking, laughter, speech, etc. unless one be deemed “unnatural”, and hence deserving of punishments and even death. An important note in connection to object (1), Christendom’s priests viciously opposed and prompted the deadly targeting of any and all Two-Spirit persons they observed in Native communities, beginning the even more intensive oppression and abuse of such persons which continues today, and which some Native communities accepted, particularly those who accepted the worst interpretation of the Christian religion foreign also to Europeans.
(3) Native American women and girls have faced an epidemic of violence, sexual assault and rape since Europeans invaded Turtle Island. Portraying them or pretending to be hypersexualized “Indian maidens” is sharing in the indignities, disrespect and continued misrepresentation Native women. Few statistics, “More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women (84.3 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime. More than half of AI/AN women (56.1 percent) have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. More than half of AI/AN women (55.5 percent) have experienced physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetime. Native women also face murder rates more than 10 times the national average. The vast majority (96%) of AI/AN female victims of sexual violence experience violence at the hands of a non-Native perpetrator.
Download and share the terrific resource guide on becoming an ally in correcting misinformation and working in cooperation with Natives at ILLUMINATIVE. A few further sources among many, “Putting a Price on Dignity” at Lakota Peoples Law Project. “Killing the Indian Maiden: Images of Native American Women in Film” at Jstor. “Ending Violence Against Native Women” at Indian Law Resource Center.
(4) Many Indigenous societies were matriarchal and/or egalitarian, with men, women and Two-Spirit individuals handling matters in their recognized purviews, physical, spiritual, social. Europeans (almost always men) often refused dealing with women and especially Two-Spirit persons, and in recording Native stories, cultures and traditions they observed: from the very beginning the overwhelming majority of their accounts recorded only a third of actual Native life and living, and that with European interpretations and beliefs superimposed upon them. The Native American chieftain system believed traditional and de rigeur by most of the world is mispresentative of most Native tribes, which had a triumvirate of sorts, that of the men’s, women’s and Two-Spirit councils. The male-only chieftainship is one that came to be more utilized, at least in front of outsiders, through adopting foreign, European patriarchal ways, lowering status/power, and erasing and excluding women and Two-Spirits, to the detriment of all. This practice and information is found in many sources, but one that collected many first hand accounts regarding is in “Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath: The Twinned Cosmos of Indigenous America” by Barbara Alice Mann, which I reviewed for NAISA in 2018. This book also goes into the metaphysical, ancient beings of Native North America different than Indigenous peoples, symbolism, Thunderbirds and sacred creatures.
(5) Early resources, (the best sources of recording accurately what Europeans did, as many are self-written accounts, not the revisions of the 1800s forward), from the earliest days of European incursions to “North America” but especially when more opted to go to the “colonies” to escape the abuses and injustices of the “lower” classes and minorities of the Old Countries, some wished to live in peace with Native Americans and had formed working alliances of commerce and trade (1600-1700s). And I am not talking about Cherokees etc. of later American history (1750-ish forward) or the largely British colonists. However, the British crown and its servants objected to this, abolished such alliances, and even jailed and executed those who tried to defend such choices. The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History at Smithsonian Magazine.
That being said, in particular, Europe’s various monarchies and peerages using Christianity as a crutch and sword, creating a perfect storm of savagery and depravity wherein non-privileged groups were unleashed on the world, with the worst of its criminals being allowed freedom to do whatever they wished as long as the Church and State reaped most of the reward. Through the wealthy’s excesses, countless wars, revisions of the Bible and Church doctrines, intolerances, oppressions and bigotry, they created generations willing to do anything to anyone to gain some power, wealth or land, and they stamped their seal of approval on it all with the 15th century’s Doctrine of Discovery (still not rescinded”), the Papal Bulls and Manifest Destiny to absolve themselves or their agents of any crime of genocide, theft etc. (Luk, 2022; Eneas, 2022; The UN’s Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples).
(6) For more information about original European peoples, decolonizing and reconnecting to their Indigenous lifeways, beliefs and meanings, a good resource is “Awakening the Horse Peoples” resource site. This “decolonization is a powerful process that allows reconnection with the places we come from, and the ways of life that shaped our ancestor’s experience and continue to live hidden within ourselves; reawakening identities of who we are in a line of people from ancient ancestors to future generations; restoration of sacred ways of life, transforming from allies to true relatives in anti-racist action, solidarity work, and resistance struggles of Indigenous people and other people of color; and making healing of historic traumas possible for ourselves, and for Indigenous people who suffer from colonization and genocide.”
My Current & Continuing Projects & Endeavors
Current/Continuing Projects & Endeavors
- “Almost” (website) a short documentary on overcoming stigma and prejudice. In production.
- On-going research project on Autistic Spectrum Disorder, intercultural competence and the effects of stigma and prejudice against different cognitive realities and abilities. See related research here.
- Stop Misuse of Native American Spirituality and Ceremonies an educational campaign to help inform accurate history, policies and cultures to help reduce appropriation and misuse. In cooperation with NAAoG.
- Cultural Competency/Decolonization, Human Remains and Objects Repatriation. Humboldt Forum, Karl May Museum and other European museums.
- Support of Chiricahua Apache N’de Nation Independent Sovereignty and Self-Sustainability.
- An RPG. A role-playing video game/visual novel in development. On origins, our earth, the ancient present and an alternative future.
- Varied Spirits a forthcoming collection of poetry, art & photography from transgender persons “gathering the dignity, the sacrifice, and the beauty of our lives, loves and living. Of our spirits.”
Find our projects of interest, and think you might like to help? Write us.