The depiction of indigenous people in mainstream art created by the people representing the majority of the population has always been a contentious topic to discuss. Due to the unavoidable biases in the perspective of those at the helm of the production, the narrative is likely to contain multiple stereotypes and may eventually turn out to produce more harm than good in regard to the representation of the target minority. However, “A World of Our Own” by Morningstar Derosier manages to capture the idea of ostracism of indigenous people and the hostile attitudes toward them by combining the concepts of alienation and the unknown by representing vulnerable groups through the prism of futuristic ideas and science fiction.
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The idea of a perceived threat that is clearly based on prejudices is conveyed flawlessly by creating a symbol of a social outcast that was deemed to be as an unfit and unwanted element of society due to their inherent characteristics. The idea of portraying people as subjected to constant control and supervision, has been implemented several times in cinema and in science fiction, in general, making the basis for most of dystopias. However, the spin that “A World of Our Own” offers on the problem of alienation of indigenous populations represents a breath of fresh air due to its unconventional plotline and impressive visuals.
The clever use of effects in the movie allows emphasizing the argument of the author more accurately. For example, the lighting on the dance floor creates an illusion of a dream and a surreal environment in which Lily and Lauren can be themselves and discover themselves (“A World of Our Own”). Thus, the effects of the film serve to emphasize the idea that ostracized people have few to no places where they can be themselves without the fear of being dehumanized, and that escapism, while not being the solution to the problem, often remains their only refuge.
The use of the misé-en-scene in the movie also makes it a rather captivating action. For example, the pivotal scene of the movie, when Lauren and Lily meet as Lily rebels against the system takes place in an enclosed environment with a distinctively claustrophobic sense. At the same time, the author manages to emphasize the distance, both the physical and psychological one, between the main characters, with Lauren being very indecisive and Lily acting rebelliously and presenting herself as easy-going (A World of Our Own). The first few seconds of their encounter, all without verbal interactions, are the most tense seconds of the movie, with Lauren deciding whether she wants to join or remain within the system.
If any criticisms could be applied to “The World of Our Own,” it would be the presence of vagueness in the depiction of indigenous people as a vulnerable group. Outside of the implanted chip, these people have no shared history or culture, at least, to the extent that could be summarized in a movie under 20 minutes. As a result, the people portrayed in the film could belong to any group that has ever been socially marginalized. The lack of accuracy in the depiction of the target population would have benefitted the film had it been used to condemn any oppression. However, with a distinctive focus on indigenous people and their problems, which “A World of Our Own” claims to address, the lack of clarity in the symbolism as it pertains to the lead characters, unfortunately, works to the movie’s detriment.
In addition, the casting choices made in the movie can be seen as slightly questionable. Although the film does not reference any race or ethnicity directly, therefore, giving the director a relative freedom of choice in the casting, the fact that the movie renders the problem of social ostracism that a specific minority experiences due to their explicit difference from the rest of the community suggests that the problem of indigenous people or, at the very least, ethnic minorities, is expressed in the plot. However, the director has chosen an evidently white cast to perform as the leading characters. The observed choice can be seen as the phenomenon of whitewashing, which has been sadly prominent in the global culture.1 The situation observed in “A World of Our Own” is, in fact, absolutely unique due to the evident lack of cultural references and just as clear signs of cultural appropriation taking place.
Arguably, the phenomenon of cultural appropriation in itself is relatively harmless, meaning simply the use of signifiers belonging to a different culture. However, these are the power relationships between those appropriating these signifiers and those from whom they are borrowed that make a substantial difference. In fact, when done correctly and for the purpose of exploring other traditions in an endeavor of encouraging experience sharing, cultural appropriation may even produce a positive effect As Deerchild noted,
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Niedzviecki wrote that he didn’t “believe in cultural appropriation” and encouraged writers to “imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.” Several media executives, including one from CBC, had tweeted they would contribute funds to any such “appropriation prize,” as proposed by Niedzviecki.2
However, in “A World of Our Own,” the established level of cultural appropriation seems far too low to help in exploring the uniqueness of other cultures. While the premise is there, the approach used by the director seems a bit superficial to convey the dramatic and suffocating environment in which ethnic minorities have to live in the present-day environment where the dominant culture stifles their traditions and the development of their identity.
However, much to the credit of the director, the movie also avoids succumbing to a range of stereotypes that other directors often fail to identify in their movies. For instance, the idea of depicting the leading characters, who are supposed to represent the oppressed minority, as the people that can hardly be differentiated from the rest of the crowd at first glance is a rather clever way of conveying the idea of unity and cooperation. According to Brant, the propensity toward visualizing indigenous people as the population that has a distinctively different look from the rest of the citizens and, therefore, is easily isolated for their appearance has become quite a trite way of conveying the message about the importance of inclusivity.
Brant defines the specified approach toward portraying indigenous cultures and people as the tool that “exhibits mostly conformed to colonial stereotypes about Indigenous peoples as “exotic” and “anti-modern.”3 Francis addresses the same concern in his book, describing the traditional portrayal of Native Americans as people that are less advanced and somehow linked to nature as inherently harmful and creating unnecessary cultural boundaries.4 Therefore, the director’s attempt to modernize the environment in which the problems of indigenous people are explored seems to be a perfect solution to the specified problem and an effective method in conveying the message of the legacy of colonialism being universal. Thus, the movie manages to represent the plight of indigenous people quite effectively.
In the context of the problem of cultural appropriation, the setting is the saving grace of the film. By locating the storyline in the future, Morningstar is free to choose to abstain from the use of the stereotypical visual shorthand such as the inherent connection to nature, which is often attributed to indigenous people as the means of alienating them from the rest of society under the premise of sympathy and appreciation of the uniqueness of their culture. Thus, viewers are unlikely to raise the same amount of concern as the one observed at the Indigenous Music Awards in 2019.5
Although the coding that allows identifying the leading character and her friend Lily as ethnic minority is clearly present, the emphasis is placed on the importance of equality, in general, rather than on the exploration of the plight of a very specific ethnic group. Hus, where the movie could be blamed for failing to portray the target population accurately, it can also be praised for refusing to succumb to the appropriation of specific elements of an indigenous culture by the ethnic majority. The film portrays suffering caused by ostracism in a very general way, with the sci-fi elements blurring the environment that the director attempted at depicting, and the specified characteristic of the film becomes its redeeming feature.
Nevertheless, despite the specified criticism, the movie still holds up as an analysis of contemporary society through the lens of science fiction. The introduction of futuristic technology has helped to parlay the weight of the problem into the language that would be universally understood since the experiences of indigenous people cannot possibly be embraced by the representative of the dominant culture. Therefore, using science fiction imagery and ideas, even though they may have been overused, has allowed conveying the problem of the treatment of indigenous people in a more understandable and relatable way to general audiences.
In addition, the portrayal of the struggles that indigenous people experience in a hostile world is worth appreciation in Morningstar’s movie. Despite the rise in diversity and the promotion of cultural awareness, the representatives of cultural minorities still suffer from underrepresentation and the increasing cultural appropriation. Studies show that the increase in cultural appropriation of Native Americans results in a rise in their objectification and dehumanization.6 The described trend affects women particularly, with sexual crimes committed against Native American women having been on the rise over the past century with little to no change in the official statistics.7 Therefore, the fact that the movie attracts the attention to the plight of ethnic minorities allows for the promotion of the basic standards of equality.
The fact that every character in the movie is thoroughly divorced from their race to create an environment of a sci-fi future can be seen as both the detriment and the advantage of the film. The ability to communicate the problem of exploiting ethnic minorities and their culture without drawing particular attention to the race thereof allows placing the message of the film into a broader context, thus helping each viewer to contextualize the problem portrayed in the movie according to their own cultural environment. For example, the problem of homelessness as raised in “A World of Our Own” correlates to the same issue observed among indigenous people in Canada.8
Moreover, according to previous experiences of tackling the concerns of indigenous people and land ownership in media, the specified approach may work as a tool for educating people and setting the premises for change. As Marshall commented on the issue of the rights of indigenous people in addressing the Oka crisis, “Overall, the crisis made more Canadians aware of and it also illustrated the potential for future conflict if such claims were not resolved in a timely, transparent and just manner.”9 “A World of Our Own” conveys a similar message, allowing a broader audience to get familiar with the struggles that indigenous people experience. Since the problem of poverty and homelessness is ubiquitous in almost all indigenous groups, every viewer will place the message of the movie into the context of their own culture, arriving at the same conclusion of the lack of equality in the wealth distribution process in regard to people’s ethnicity and race.
By depicting the struggles of the people that escape supervision and control only to face societal contempt and the danger of constant pursuit by authorities, the movie “A World of Our Own” by Morningstar Derosier conveys an important message about the need to address the problem of discrimination of indigenous groups in modern society. Although set in what appears to be a dystopian future, the film mirrors the realities of the present-day world, which alienates indigenous groups from the rest of the community and ostracizes them to the point where they feel unwelcome in any social environment. “A World of Our Own” also tackles important issues of social prejudices and the problem of misjudging people based solely on their identity.
Thus, “A World of Our Own” can be considered an important contribution to the analysis of racial relationships in modern society. Moreover, “A World of Our Own” can incentivize one to deconstruct the stereotypes associated with race and ethnicity by viewing a group of people clearly coded as ostracized merely as people. As a result, the audience can develop a sense of empathy toward the specified group and learn to accept the differences between them and themselves, at the same time appreciating the culture of the ethnic minority. The movie references the harm that ethnic stereotypes produce, causing society to alienate people that do not conform to the dominant culture, a statement which “A World of Our Own” calls out for its insanity and drastic effects that it has on intercultural relationships. Therefore, “A World of Our Own” can be seen as the attempt at debunking the myths and stereotypes of ethnic minorities, which, in the context of the setting where the movie was made and the background of the director, clearly renders the oppression that Native Americans face in Canada. While being naïve and lacking context at times, “A World of Our Own” portrays the problematic aspects of relationships between the dominant culture and the representatives of ethnic minorities very vividly, encouraging viewers to accept the idea of change.
Baudemann, Kristina. “Indigenous Futurist Film: Speculation and Resistance in Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls and File under Miscellaneous,” in Canadian Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2019. 151-165.
Bird, Hilary. “Cultural Appropriation: Make It Illegal Worldwide, Indigenous Advocates Say.” CBC News, 2018, Web.
Brant, Jennifer. “Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017, Web.
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Day, Sheila. “Equal Status for Indigenous Women – Sometimes, Not Now.” Canadian Women Studies/Les Cahiers De La Femme, vol. 33, no. 1-2, 2018, pp. 174-185.
Deerchild, Rosanna. “3 Indigenous writers discuss cultural appropriation with CBC’s Rosanna Deerchild.” CBC, 2017, Web.
Francis, Daniel. The Imaginary Indian. Vancouver, CA: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1992.
Lawrence, Bonita. ’Real’ Indians and Others’: Mixed‑blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.
Marshall, Tabitha. “Oka Crisis.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2013, Web.
Monkman, Lenard. “Artists Boycott Indigenous Music Awards over Cultural Appropriation Concerns.” CBC News, 2019, Web.
- Sheila Day, “Equal Status for Indigenous Women – Sometimes, Not Now.” Canadian Women Studies/Les Cahiers De La Femme, 33, no. 1-2, 2018: p. 174.
- Rosanna Deerchild, “3 Indigenous writers discuss cultural appropriation with CBC’s Rosanna Deerchild.” CBC, 2017, Web.
- Jennifer Brant, “Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017, Web.
- Daniel Francis, The Imaginary Indian (Vancouver, CA: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1992): p. 46.
- Lenard Monkman, “Artists Boycott Indigenous Music Awards over Cultural Appropriation Concerns,” CBC News, 2019, Web.
- Bonita Lawrence, ’Real’ Indians and Others’: Mixed‑blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004): p. 8.
- Hilary Bird, “Cultural Appropriation: Make It Illegal Worldwide, Indigenous Advocates Say.” CBC News, 2018, Web.
- Kristina Baudemann, “Indigenous Futurist Film: Speculation and Resistance in Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls and File under Miscellaneous,” in Canadian Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2019: 152.
- Tabitha Marshall, “Oka Crisis.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2013, Web.