Directing Mainstream Media

Support from a 2014 NACF Film Fellowship allowed Billy Luther (Navajo/Hopi/Laguna Pueblo) the flexibility to co-direct “Rebel Music: Native America,” the debut episode of an MTV series celebrating musicians with powerful messages of activism and resistance.

The fellowship afforded the filmmaker the ability to pause works in progress and accept the opportunity to direct an episode about four young Native artists fighting for social change in their communities. The Native-directed program premiered to over 4 million viewers on Facebook in November and will be released on other channels soon. “As TV ratings decline, youth are getting their information and entertainment through the Internet,” says Luther. “Releasing the episode on Facebook allowed it to be a global experience and I was very excited to be a part of that.”

Trailer for Rebel Music: Native America. To watch the full episode, visit MTV’s Facebook page.

Post by MTV.

Rebel Music: Native America episode co-directed by Billy Luther. If video is not viewable, click: “Login.”

Artists initially reluctant to participate in the MTV production were re-assured that a Native filmmaker would tell their stories  accurately and not stereotypically. “The stories of Native artists Inez Jasper (Chilliwack), Frank Waln (Lakota), Nataanii Means (Lakota/Omaha/Navajo) and Mike Cliff (Lakota) moved people very strongly,” said Luther. “The overwhelming response from viewers demonstrates how much our stories need to be heard.” So much so that earlier this month “Rebel Music: Native America” was screened at the White House during the Tribal Nations Conference. Luther participated in the event and in the engaging panel discussion that followed.

After completing the television episode, Luther resumed pre-production planning for the next film in the trilogy honoring his Navajo, Hopi and Laguna Pueblo heritage, which he began with Miss Navajo (2007) and Grab (2011). Filming starts next year, featuring the story of KUYI 88.1 Hopi Radio. Luther wants to shed light on how the community converged around the station, using what some perceived as outdated radio technology to tell its own stories and reconnect with Hopi traditions, language and culture. “I love telling contemporary stories of Natives who balance tradition and modern life,” said Luther. “They have a unique outlook on life and their stories give non-Native audiences a different spin on what they think they know about Native communities.”

Growing up in the 1980’s, the filmmaker recalls how he never saw Native people on TV or the big screen. He points out that now there are Native filmmakers such as Brooke Swaney (Blackfoot/Salish), Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Creek) and Larry Blackhorse Lowe (Navajo), who have each bridged that gap with their unique vision and story telling style. “I see many non-Native filmmakers going in to Native communities and I wonder about it. Native filmmakers have the authenticity and the responsibility to tell our own stories. If we don’t tell them, other people will. If we want to have representation, it is time for us to do the work, and funding for artists such as myself and others is crucial to make that happen,” said Luther.