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“Warrior Women”: Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Film


Warrior Women was created to convey how indigenous women engage with and see the world. Madonna Thunder Hawk is a Lakota activist whose career spans decades. She participated in the organization of protests and campaigns aimed at fighting for the rights of women and indigenous people in America. Through the American Indian Movement (AIM), mothers and daughters highlighted the female perspective of history and facilitated the evaluation of the effects of political struggles on children who experienced the turbulence. The film effectively expresses the impact of unending colonization, intergenerational trauma, gender inequality, the relationship to land, and the maintenance of cultural practices on past and present generations of Native Americans.

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The relationship between Thunder Hawk and her daughter, Macy Gilbert, exemplifies the materialization of Native ecological independence. Theirs is a struggle for self-determination in a country that focused on decimating the Indian population. It is evident that women who engaged in activism were largely ignored by the media, which valued men’s voices and contributions. Even though Thunder Hawk participated in the Wounded Knee protests and the occupation of excess federal land in Alcatraz, these events were barely assessed by media houses that focused solely on the men who took part in the activities. It is worth noting that she participated in the Geneva discussions on Indigenous people and survived the harrowing experience of Indian Boarding schools which was a ploy by the government aimed at torturing young native children.

The impact of female voices is perhaps one of the film’s most important themes. Despite society’s preference for masculine perspectives, Thunder Hawk took to the stage to express a worldview that advocated for the protection of ancestral land and indigenous rights. It is essential to point out that the Standing Rock movement’s events were largely ignored by the media primarily because women were at the center of its organization. Despite the numerous challenges and traumatizing experiences that characterized her life, Thunder Hawk continues advocating for her people’s rights.

Race and Marginalization

The persistent marginalization of the native population was a precise government operation. It actively denied Indians the opportunity to express their value system, which was an integral aspect of their culture. By focusing on fighting for the preservation of their ancestral land, the natives had little time and resources to build schools or institutions that would improve their quality of life. The education system provided by the American regime persecuted the children and purposely avoided teaching them subjects that would promote empowerment and reinforce their identities.

As constituted at the time, the education system promoted aspects of systemic racism by denying deserving individuals the opportunity to participate in the American dream. For instance, Madonna notes that during the Wounded Knee protests, the government charged all the participants with federal offenses and ignored the fact that a treaty had been violated (Castle & King, 2018). In addition, she focuses her attention on preventing native children from being fostered and adopted outside the tribes in an attempt to preserve their heritage. She firmly believes that transferring children from one culture to another is an act of genocide. It is essential to ensure that the young generation is given the opportunity to understand and preserve their history.

Intergenerational Trauma

The non-linear presentation of American history facilitates the organic convergence of important events through thrilling and introspective stories narrated by the main character. Marcella Gilbert’s experiences of the persistent genocide of native communities helped shape her worldview. The unending racism has kept her community in a permanent state of poverty where oppression is the norm. Her mother’s experiences defined their relationship, which for the most part, was formal and devoid of meaningful connections. It should be noted that the cruelty associated with state-sanctioned violence traumatized Thunder Hawk, who resolved to seek redress and have her people’s freedoms protected.

Finding a balance between activism and raising a child was challenging. Thunder Hawk’s experiences had left her emotionally distant and unbelievably focused on her mission as an activist. Her ability to connect with Marcella was significantly hampered, and their interactions were often formal and rigid. Marcella took it upon herself to change the narrative by breaking the toxic cycle that defined their relationship. She states that revolutionaries must make sacrifices and that it is easier to think of Thunder Hawk as an activist rather than a mother (Castle & King, 2018). The result is a relationship borne out of the understanding that past injustices transcend generations and have a similar impact on the children.

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Historical and Social Context

Warrior Women is the result of a community-based oral history project that promotes female activism. The Red Power initiative’s requirement for accountability to the community informed the collaboration between Christina King and Elizabeth Castle as they embarked on creating and directing the documentary (Castle, 2019). The team was focused on maximizing the storytelling potential of art and design to highlight the ongoing effects of colonization, repression, and the elimination of vital cultural elements.

The focus on obscure but significant historical events and the non-linear presentation of scenarios was aimed at following the circular nature of experience and memory. This is because people often remember aspects of their lives by referring to specific emotions. It is important to know why events occurred as opposed to when they happened. Therefore the violence at Wounded Knee in 1973 and the events seen during the Standing Rock protests in 2016 exemplify colonial violence against the native population even though they transpired decades apart (Castle, 2019). The directors intended to showcase the colonial history of North America through the eyes of important female activists.

The film was produced against the backdrop of landmark rulings that significantly affected the community. For instance, the introduction of the Relocation policy in 1950 triggered the migration of Native Americans from reservations to urban areas, with over 71% of the population residing in metropolitan areas (Castle, 2019). This contributed to the loss of cultural practices and identities. The federal government’s violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty signed in 1851 led to the invasion of protected communal land held by the Great Sioux Nation (Johnson, 2017). The first gathering of indigenous people was held in 1977 to draft a global plan that would facilitate the protection of their rights and freedoms (Castle, 2019). It marked a turning point because it allowed the world to understand the nature of the injustice meted against native populations.


The documentary exemplifies the bonds between women by presenting the female perspective of historical events that shaped the indigenous community. Their determination and devotion to a cause highlight the impact of activism and its ability to transform lives. The film is relevant in view of the fact that it dissects historical and contemporary issues that affect the native population. It assesses the realities behind the invasion of North America and how those conditions continue to impact families. The women risk everything to preserve a culture that has borne the brunt of racism and government-sanctioned violence in a patriarchal society that decisively squashes female voices.


Castle, E. A. (2019). Warrior women: Viewer discussion guide. Vision Maker Media.

Castle, E. & King, D. C. (Directors). (2018). Warrior women [Film]. Vision Maker Media.

Johnson, H. (2017). #NoDAPL: Social media, empowerment, and civic participation at standing rock. Library Trends, 66(2), 155–175.

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