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Perspectives: Miciana Alise and Daniel Hyde on Creating Black and Indigenous Narratives

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Filmmakers Miciana Alise (left) and Daniel Hyde (right) are alumni of the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program.

By Moi Santos

Since its founding, the Sundance Institute has supported and advocated Indigenous artists and voices. Today, nearly 40 years later, in a continuation of our commitment to Indigenous artists, we are proud to publish a new series, Perspectives, from the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, featuring Indigenous artists who have been supported by the Institute’s Indigenous Program and whose work continues to broaden and champion all Indigenous experiences. As we prepare to close out Black History Month, we present the first in the series, in which we talk with artists Miciana Alise (Tlingit) and Daniel Hyde (Navajo).

For Black and Indigenous communities, storytelling has always been a form of resistance, solidarity, and hope, dating back to the stealing of Indigenous Africans from the African continent to the genocide of Indigenous peoples around the globe. In the present struggle against the ongoing legacy of state sanctioned racial violence, Indigenous solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives is imperative. Afro-Indigenous experiences and voices must be centered and amplified. This includes reckoning with and rectifying the anti-Blackness that exists within Native and Indigenous communities as well as recognizing that in struggle and in resilience, our histories, and ultimately our self-determination, are intertwined.

At the Sundance Institute, we firmly believe that Black artists and Black stories should be celebrated and uplifted year-round. The Sundance Institute Indigenous Program remains committed to supporting #BlackLivesMatter in the fight for Black Liberation and Indigenous Sovereignty.


MICIANA ALISE (Tlingit)

Alise (right) at the Native Forum. ©2019 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jovelle Tamayo

Miciana Alise interned with the Native American Journalists Association in 2011 and 2012. She was a production intern with Jesse Collins Entertainment during the production of the 2013 BET Awards. She acted as first assistant director under director Randy Reinholz during his production of an original Alaska Native play William Inc., for Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska. She self-published her first book, Heavens & Heathens, a young adult fantasy fiction novel in 2016. She wrote her first feature-length script in 2018 and was selected to be a Sundance Institute Indigenous Film Fellow that same year. She is the creator of The Mission by Miciana, a YouTube channel which focuses on educating Native youth on current events and Indigenous history of the United States through innovative teaching methods. Her feature film script, Fancy Dance, was included on the inaugural (2020) Indigenous List hosted by The Black List, and she is a current Sundance Institute Screenwriting Fellow (2020-2021). She is also currently enrolled in the Arizona State University Film and Media Studies Program.

MOI SANTOS: What inspired you to become a filmmaker? How do your previous, current, or upcoming projects fit into the conversation(s) around Black/Indigenous identity?

MICIANA ALISE: I was inspired to become a filmmaker when I saw the impact that film could have on a person as they leave the theater. I remember being so in awe of the effect that a story could have on my life and the myriad of feelings that I could experience through someone else’s eyes on screen. It’s always been a magical medium to me. And once I was old enough to connect that magic to the absence of people who looked like and lived like me, I recognized film as an opportunity to create a new image of the Black American and Alaska Native (Indigenous) experience. When I began seriously pursuing filmmaking as a career, it was through the lens that I wanted to bring representation and visibility to my people.

MS: What impact do you hope your films/projects will have?

MA: I hope that my projects will impact audiences to question the preconceived notions of Black and Brown people that they hold and to even go a step further and to ask why they hold those preconceived notions. I want my work to open a door for conversations around the Black and Indigenous experience in this country. I want my work to be a bridge between the Black and Indigenous communities—for people to recognize the commonalities rather than the disparities. I want my films to help people heal the hurt of feeling invisible in the American landscape and elevate them in their personal lives to live boldly and unapologetically and as Black and Brown as they want to be. I want everyone who sees my films to understand that our people’s present is just as rich as our histories.

MS: What are your favorite Black and/or Indigenous films?

MA: My favorite Black films are Get Out and Malcolm & Marie, for reasons that sit at the opposite ends of a spectrum. Get Out really feeds the part of me that wants to see the truth of Black existence spoken out loud. I feel like that film gets at the heart of a lot of issues that are so familiar to Black people in a white man’s world, but often overlooked or purposely ignored by the larger populace. I also love that the film is presented as a horror film but is much closer to reality than a lot of other fictionalized horror stories. It subverts the familiar territory of the horror genre to take the audience a mile in a Black man’s shoes.

I want everyone who sees my films to understand that our people’s present is just as rich as our histories.

—Miciana Alise

On the other hand, Malcolm & Marie says almost nothing explicitly about being Black aside from a few gripes from a frustrated Black filmmaker. The larger story centers on a couple speaking nothing but harsh truths regarding their romantic relationship for the entirety of the film. It’s shot beautifully and without artifice, allowing the audience to see a Black man and woman relate to one another on the basis of love first, not race, which is something I can’t recall ever seeing before.

MS: How is your cinematic language shaped (or not shaped) by your Black and Indigenous identities? Do any other identities overlap?

MA: Sadly, it’s been my experience that my Black and Indigenous identities haven’t had much space to overlap in the film industry. It feels like I’m backed into choosing one or the other on any given day; either I’m working on a Black project or an Indigenous project. And that speaks largely to why I want to be a part of this industry—to break that stronghold. Cinematic language is universal and should be accessible to people of all identities, including mixed identities.

I recognized film as an opportunity to create a new image of the Black American and Alaska Native (Indigenous) experience.

—Miciana Alise

I would love to create more stories about color lines intersecting and existing within singular characters. It would be a privilege to be a filmmaker who helps expand that space. For now, my cinematic expression is shaped through my worldview as either an Indigenous woman or a Black woman. Both have unique things to express and varying perspectives to approach the work, ranging from language incorporated in the script to the crafting of the environments they find themselves in.

MS: How do you, if at all, celebrate Black History Month? What does Black History Month mean to you? How do you honor Black History Month every day of the year?

MA: I celebrate Black History Month by revisiting books on Black people and written by Black people that I grew up reading, as well as picking up a few new ones. I also use this month as an opportunity to educate folks in my circle by sharing information on Black history and prominent Black figures via social media. I tend to share these things year-round, but I see this month as a great opportunity to amplify voices around the Black experience because folks are primed to listen and learn.

Alise (second from top left) at the Screenwriters Lab. ©2021 Sundance Institute

MS: How do you define your Blackness? How do you define your Indigeneity? What or who has helped you tap into claiming your identity?

MA: Defining my Blackness and Indigeneity is an ongoing process for me. I feel like the more I learn, the less I know. One would think that being Black and Indigenous would be an easy mix of worlds to walk in, but that’s not always the case. I have found that at times when I express pride in one identity, the other feels betrayed or let down. I see my identities as working hand and hand, and I can’t wait for the day when others can see that as well. We have so much in common with one another historically and currently that I think we can all benefit by journeying forward together in understanding and appreciation of one another’s cultures. I know that I’m blessed to be descended from all of my ancestors, and I hope my filmmaking reflects that.

MS: What does your freedom look like?

MA: Freedom, to me, looks like existence without interference. It’s the ability to go for a run without worrying about who’s following you in that truck. It’s being able to sleep at night without worrying that someone will shoot you in your bed. It’s being able to make a mistake and receive correction rather than a death sentence. Freedom, to me, is the ability to be human without the opinion of another dictating your fate.

MS: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

MA: My advice to aspiring filmmakers is to share your truth. Authentic storytelling is the most impactful and entertaining because it offers reality without artifice. Relatability is great, but I’d much rather watch something crafted from the heart than something that’s trying to translate its meaning to me the entire time. We all understand when someone’s heart breaks, we all relate when someone is so happy they’re moved to tears, we all understand when hope is lost, we all understand joy. That’s the beauty of cinema—it’s universal. You already have the tool to share your world. Take it and run with it.

DANIEL HYDE (Navajo)

Hyde at the Native Filmmakers Lab. ©2011 Sundance Institute | Photo by Lyndsey Shakespeare

Daniel Edward Hyde is an American filmmaker of Navajo and Belizean descent based out of the Southwest USA, and the founder of Guerilla Digital Productions, whose work in short films and documentaries on Navajo culture have captivated audiences around the world. A 2007 graduate of the University of Arizona’s School of Media Arts and a 2011 Sundance Native Lab fellow, his work has spanned from Hollywood in The Making of Navajo Star Wars (2015), to the art world in Bert & Weiwei: Time (2014), and back to the Navajo Nation with narratives such as The Way Things Are (2011) and Brousins (2012), as well as the role of producer and actor in Blackhorse Lowe‘s acclaimed production of Chasing the Light (2015). His award-winning short film, Manna (2015), was filmed in Belize and premiered at the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival.

MOI SANTOS: What inspired you to become a filmmaker? How do your previous, current, or upcoming projects fit into the conversation(s) around Black/Indigenous identity? What impact do you hope your films/projects will have?

DANIEL HYDE: I’ve participated in a variety of forms of art, but there really ain’t nothing like films and filmmaking. The power of the craft is immeasurable, able to accelerate progress around the globe and move the hearts of people in every caste. It includes every art form rolled into one, with Art of War–style strategies, making the reward of a job well done as satisfying as any other endeavor. I think when my father took me out of school to see Malcolm X in theaters when I was 8 years old, I first noticed a desire to create and portray characters I identified with, and 11 years later when I was in college, I was all in after I saw the opening scene of Kill Bill.

I enforce our sovereignty and freedom of choice by being unapologetically Indigenous in style.

—Daniel Hyde

The inspiration ranges and doesn’t always make sense. By rule, since I am a person of Black and Indigenous descent, all of my work falls under those cultural umbrellas. I don’t run from that fact, but it’s not something that rules my train of thought. The goal is to show people who we were at this moment in history. “WE OUT HERE,” and Kevin Costner never showed up to save me or my people. Is that important? I don’t know. It’s fun though.

MS: What are your favorite Black and/or Indigenous films?

DH: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Malcolm X, Crooklyn, Friday, Black Panther, Smoke Signals, The Fast Runner, Boy, Chasing the Light. I love these films because they capture the feeling of what it is to be Black and Indigenous. They all possess the defiant nature of the survivor mentality, unapologetic in structure and beautiful to the senses. And just as important to me is the intent behind each of them. They are all rebellious in their own ways, and that speaks to my independent nature.

MS: How is your cinematic language shaped (or not shaped) by your Black and Indigenous identities? Do any other identities overlap?

DH: My father is a Black Creole from Belize, and my mother is a Diné woman from the heart of the rez, which means I grew up with rhythm and a third American eye. And maybe it’s not the best trait to claim, but I feel like I tell my stories with a chip on my shoulder, warranted or not, in a Melvin Van Peebles fashion. I like to lean into the ugly and mine the beauty in the dark. The closest amalgamation I could compare it to would be hip-hop culture, where oftentimes the imagery is graphic and belligerently provocative. I would dare say our style is subversive, carrying a heavy dark humor, characteristic of the people I represent.

MS: How do you, if at all, celebrate Black History Month? What does Black History Month mean to you? How do you honor Black History Month every day of the year?

DH: Back before politics went crazy, I used to roll my eyes when a friend or family member would bring up the fact that “a Black man invented this” or “a Native was the first to do this.” My response was always, “Yeah, of course, I don’t need to be told how dope we are. You should see my brothers round up some wild mustangs sometime. A hundred dollars a pop.” But I get it now. As we’ve seen, the powers that be attempt to paint over the all-encompassing mural of American history, à la Thor 3, (what up, Taika?), I acknowledge that it is incumbent upon us to keep telling our own stories.

Much like music, the audience can tell when it’s real. That’s why so many revered musicians are known for their life sagas as much as their work. In the Navajo way, the true value of art is measured through the time and intention given by the creator. A piece of jewelry becomes priceless when the time and thought processes of the artist is acknowledged and exalted. So as much as I don’t really pay attention to what month it is on the calendar, any positive attention pointed to the many underserved pillars of society only serves the greater good, and I revere the intent behind that. Symbols and gestures matter, these days more than ever.

Hyde (fourth from right) at the Native Lab. ©2011 Sundance Institute | Photo by Lyndsey Shakespeare

MS: How do you define your Blackness? How do you define your Indigeneity? What or who has helped you tap into claiming your identity?

DH: Most of our Native grandparents decided years before we were born that we would learn English first and be spared the indignities they endured during the boarding school years. As we try to survive through the superficial zeitgeist of the digital age, it’s difficult for many displaced, urbanized Natives, caught up in the manifest destiny mythology, to not feel a sense of imposter syndrome when recalled to reconnect to our roots.

Many of us have been cut off like stolen children, but we know in our hearts who our mother is. So Indigeneity today cannot be defined only by traditionalist practices alone. These days, Indigenous identity has as much to do with being the holders and gatekeepers of the true story of the nature of man. Black and Indigenous people will forever carry this burden of remembering histories most of the world would like to forget, because it wasn’t that long ago and is still felt acutely through living generations.

To be Indigenous is to be aware of the unwritten social contract made by our ancestors that said we would forfeit much of our sovereignty in order that a new world order might be built, inclusive of all the best the world can offer. At least that’s what we tell ourselves when watching the news of the world from our hogans. The world we’re living in now is the only one we’ve got, and if no one else is going to do it, it’s up to us to fight for the Earth and the people who stand apart from western indoctrination.

MS: What does your freedom look like?

DH: Looking back on my family history, I see a lot of Natives and Black men who were “too smart for their own good” at the time. I guess the word is “uppity.” My cheii punched his commanding officer in the National Guard, and my uncle was put on trial for sedition, so I feel like I’m bred not to take any guff, and what I mean by that is that the independent streak comes from deep within, in an incorrigible manner, many times to my detriment. My only freedom is my family, who understands and supports that nature. So I’m only free because I have homes to go back to when my house of cards flitters away.

So freedom for me is knowing my roots, to hold fast while life keeps coming at me, and having a good idea where I’ll be when the world ends.

—Daniel Hyde

Everybody needs that sense of belonging, and you see the manifestations of those unmet needs on cable news. In a perfect world, money wouldn’t matter as much, and people could step off the hamster wheel and be present in their own lives. But this world is not perfect, and freedom is only relative to the constraints we impose on ourselves individually. I’m only free because my ancestors made it that way for me; all I have to do is keep the “good ways” going. So freedom for me is knowing my roots, to hold fast while life keeps coming at me, and having a good idea where I’ll be when the world ends.

MS: In your work, how do you recover Black freedom and/or Indigenous sovereignty?

DH: I enforce our sovereignty and freedom of choice by being unapologetically Indigenous in style. You may not understand some of the literal context at the time, but the hope is that you will understand it emotionally. It’s not incumbent on me to teach anybody their own history. Either you can handle the truth presented or not. Either way, we’re moving on and not holding anyone’s hand along the way. In the act itself, I’m not thinking about our productions this way; I’m focused on brutal honesty, but seeking the truth is easier than accepting it. I make my films knowing that they’re probably best suited for those with an open mind and hoping that there are more people like that in the world than what is apparent.


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