I've been asked about where this story of Blessed came from, how it was birthed, created in my head...and there's an image that stuck with me for a long time but that was only an image. Not a story. It didn't become a story until I figured out it was Kiona's. It didn't become an action film until I learned with Kiona needed to do and just how badass she is.
I didn't set out to tell a Native story, or to make Native film. I am telling Kiona's story. And she's Native American. She's Mandan and Hidatsa, her family on her mother's side is from North Dakota. She lives in Los Angeles now and has never lived on the rez but she grew up with the stories of that life, of her mother's life. She's visited there, knows some cousins and uncles, the rez is filled with aunties everywhere and that gives her a base, if and when she needs it. The rez is "back home" for her mother. But home for Kiona is with her husband and at work.
She's a dedicated police officer, committed to serving the good of the community, to upholding the law. She doesn't just consider herself an advocate of justice, she believes in it. She's respectful and although it may be hard for her to tap into now, because she's also in a lot of pain, her greatest respect is for the Great Spirit.
This is Kiona's story. A modern Native American woman's story.
And it's also pieces of my story I'm giving to the world to see. Which is surreal and exciting.
I'm not a police officer, but I too believe in justice and fairness and hold a deep respect to the history of my mother and her life growing up in North Dakota at Fort Berhold. I, too, hold the deepest reverance for the Great Spirit. That's who I pray to in the morning. That's how I gain guidance. And like Kiona, I know a bit about her pain.
When I step back from the story and look at the film we're making, at the cinematic art that Through The Wilderness, LLC is producing, at the amazing BEAUTIFUL work that our filmmaking team has created, I lose my breath a bit.
At one point this weekend during the shoot, I watched DeLanna Studi and Julia Vera work their magic in a tough emotional scene. I felt this mother pleading with her daughter to remember her ant medicine, to remember who she was and what we have to hold us, The Great Spirit. And I felt her daughter push her way not because her mother is wrong but because she's in pain.
I also saw these beautiful Native American women in roles that we don't see that often. First, overall, we don't see a lot of Native Americans in film to begin with which is a tragedy that is continously being addressed but it's a difficult journey. And of the handful of Native roles in film, the ones that make the greatest impact on me are the ones with complex women characters who are authentic and layered with emotions, who have experiences we can all relate to, not...dressed in buckskin as the silent server, or being raped or beaten or just not seen.
Yes...these are also realities for Native American women in this country. That's an atrocity that burns my soul and breaks my heart. And I may very well tell that story at some point. But for now, in our debut film, Blessed, our first woman character is Kiona Stetson. She's a cop. A mourning mother. A wife. A citizen of her world.