A Short History of Indigenous Representation, Today’s Content + Creators, and A Vision For The Future

“Stories are considered of paramount importance to many Native communities – it is a true testament to the difficulty of “breaking in” that there are not more Native American people working in the entertainment industry.” —
Maya Rose Dittloff, author, Untold Stories: Indigenous Creators In The United States

To accompany this report, the following lists have been compiled and hosted on FREE THE WORK’s website, to be supplemented by submissions moving forward on an ongoing basis:

In The Know: Film & TV Content

This list is a snapshot of people and projects active in the industry since 1990 and/or currently operating in the industry as of 2022. The list does not include projects created for educational use. While a fully comprehensive directory would be an extremely difficult undertaking, we aim for this to serve as an introduction for those interested in becoming acquainted with the current state of Indigenous-led entertainment content. The names and projects compiled here represent a significant portion of the material released during the time-frame considered, over which Native people had creative control. 

In The Know: Creators & Filmmakers

Despite obstacles, there are Native creators who have firmly established themselves within the entertainment industry of the present day. The below lists are not exhaustive, but represent hours of intensive research, questioning, and compiling.

This list will be a living document and will be updated over time. If you would like to submit an addition to this list, click here to complete a submission form. All entries will be reviewed prior to addition.

While FREE THE WORK generally believes in the value of identity self-determination, we recognize that false or unverified claims of Indigenous heritage have historically caused harm within Native communities. For more discussion on this topic, visit pg. 11 of the Untold Stories: Indigenous Creators In The US report. We encourage careful consideration, especially within all hiring contexts,  and recommend cross-referencing with the Cherokee Nation Film Office’s directory of Native crew, for additional identity verification.

Click here to register for the Cherokee Nation Film Office directory. 

Established creators:

There is also definite hope for the future, as many emerging artists are beginning to experience recognition for their talents. For the purposes of this document, the term “emerging” directors/screenwriters will be defined as:

  • Creators who have either:
    • Directed an example of produced short form content (short film, music video)
    • Have written an available professional sample (for TV or feature)
  • But have not yet had experience working in longform content (feature films, television, major advertisement).

Emerging Directors/Screenwriters:

In The Know: Entertainment Landscape

The following list aims to compile a small selection of organizations of note in the entertainment sector, as an introduction. These include either Native-led organizations to further increase Indigenous involvement in film and television production in the United States or state-sponsored film programs that have additional incentives to draw production dollars to reservations or to employ Native peoples. 

  • Cherokee Nation Film Office
    • Offers a location and crew database of Native American crew and talent. As of March 1, 2022, the CNFO offers a $1million per year tax incentive for projects filmed in the Cherokee Nation.
  • Montana Film Office
    • As a part of a newly enacted tax credit (MEDIA Act), productions are eligible to receive up to 5% of expenditures back when filming in an “underserved county” which includes all reservations. 
  • New Mexico Film Office
    • When filming in New Mexico, there are two incentives that could help employ Native filmmakers and technicians. 
      • Film Crew Advancement Program (FCAP) pays for 50% of wages for two FCAP mentees (they must be matched with a mentor). 
      • Productions can get 5% for filming or completing post-production in the “Uplift Zone” – which is defined as areas more than 60 miles outside of Santa Fe or Bernalillo counties.