Native American filmmaker Peshawn Bread is breaking Indigenous female stereotypes, on the big and small screens

For Native American filmmaker Peshawn Bread (they/them), flipping the script on portrayals of Indigenous women on screen comes with a little pain — at least for some characters.

The Comanche/Kiowa/Cherokee director of The Daily Life of Mistress Red, a short mockumentary about a Native dominatrix who whips white supremacists, wants to break Indigenous female stereotypes, which often center on trauma.

“I feel like a lot of the times that we see Native women on screen, there’s usually violence, and it’s usually in a drama setting and never in a comedic setting,” Bread, 26, tells In The Know by Yahoo. “The way that I’m challenging it is letting Native women have a narrative of their own when it comes to sexuality. Also having it through humor.”

Mistress Red, which Bread describes as both funny and campy, offers an empowering take on female Indigeneity, shifting the balance of power to a character who would typicaly be dramatized as a victim. In Bread’s short film, the LGBTQ character Mistress Red (played by Jennifer Rader, Reservation Dogs) is proudly Indigenous, proudly queer and peppers her salty sass with whips and leather.

It’s the kind of representation Bread wants to see more of in the film industry.

“Native queer representation in Hollywood is little to none,” Bread says, referring to characters on screen. “But what’s funny is that there are so many Native queers in writers’ rooms, and there’s so many of us out there. There’s so many Native ‘Indigi-queers.’ It’s a thing.

“And for me,” they add, “as an Indigenous queer person and someone who’s female-presenting, I try my best to showcase stories that are loving and stories that don’t contain violence to them.”

Mistress Red isn’t the only project that Bread has on their résumé. They are also an associate producer on Outer Range, a sci-fi thriller from Amazon Studios, and have worked on the upcoming Marvel Echo series, which follows the Indigenous superhero Maya Lopez, who is also deaf.

Photo courtesy Peshawn Bread
Photo courtesy Peshawn Bread

Those projects have given Bread the opportunity to educate productions on Native culture and provide options other than Google for researching Indigenous traditions and clothing.

“The thing that I pride myself on and try to do is bring in people who have that knowledge and who can share that knowledge with people in our departments. And I think that’s the Native way to do things — is to bring in community and to bring in other people to teach and to educate,” they say.

“I can’t represent all Native people,” Bread adds. “But I sure do know a lot of Native people who could help and represent their community in a way that would bring so much joy, and more of a story to the production.”

‘We exist in the present’

As Bread seeks a distributor for Mistress Red, which has screened at multiple festivals, they are also working on developing other film and TV projects. One is a queer Indigenous vampire series that also serves as a coming-out story, combined with a cautionary tale of the effects of colonization.

“The underlying meaning of it is how Native people are treated as relics of the past, when we exist in the present,” they say.

Another project is an LGBTQ short about the Comanche culture, and, they say, “a love letter all in the Comanche language.” The film follows a Comanche person and their partner, who is transitioning.

Bread recalls, as a teenage filmmaker, watching a particularly traumatic LGBTQ film and wanting to change how the characters were portrayed on screen.

“It was just trauma after trauma after trauma after trauma,” they say. “And I remember promising to myself, ‘OK, if I make something that’s queer and Native, I’m going to make it beautiful, because our people deserve to have a beautiful love and deserve to see that our love can exist on screen. And it can be beautiful and it can be Indigenous, and it can have everything that we dream of for ourselves.’”

Indigenous influences

While the filmmaker and model forges their own path, Bread acknowledges influences that have helped shape their creativity and drive.

“Sydney Freeland has definitely inspired my work,” they say, referring to the LGBTQ Diné (Navajo) director, who has worked on shows including Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls. “She’s just so incredible the way that she directs. She also directed on Echo. So watching her direct a Native Marvel series was just out of this world.”

Bread also explains what their own mother, Prey producer Jhane Myers (Comanche/Blackfeet), has shared from her experience.

“My mom has taught me a lot about Comanche life and being strong not just for yourself, but for everybody else,” they say. “There’s a lot of challenges in the film industry, especially as a Native, female-presenting person. There’s a lot of talking down to, and there’s a lot of condescension.

“Sometimes there’s days where I’m working, and sometimes I take a step back. I’m like, ‘Damn, do I really belong here?’ But I do, because I think about people that are coming up and people that are looking to me, wanting to be in the film industry,” they add. “You have to be strong not just for yourself, but for the Native cast, crew, consultants, story — everything.”

They don’t deny that it sounds like a lot of pressure.

“The way I handle it is I put on my biggest earrings,” Bread says, “and I take a few steps forward.”

That advice also goes for young Native women and LGBTQ creatives who want to take that first step into filmmaking.

“Walk in the way that your relatives have taught you,” Bread advises. “It’s about kindness, but also being strong enough to tell those stories and be fearless.”

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