Cultural Appropriation : Jesse Wente’s Response


Jesse Wente has appeared on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning as film and pop culture critic for 20 years and currently serves as Director of Film Programmes, at TIFF Bell Lightbox, overseeing theatrical, Cinematheque and Film Circuit programming. A self-described ‘Ojibwe dude’ with a national and international lens, he encourages audiences to consider diversity and inclusion into the future view of their organization, industry and country.

Well known as a film critic and broadcaster in Toronto and across Canada, Jesse was the first nationally syndicated Indigenous columnist for the CBC, covering film and pop culture for 20 local CBC Radio programs. He has also been a regular guest on CBC Newsworld’s News Morning and Weekend Edition, as well as Q.


Jesse Wente is a leading film critic and programmer of Indigenous cinema


Jesse is Ojibwe, and his family comes from Chicago and the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario. He is an advocate for Aboriginal Arts, most notably on screen. He draws attention to the imagery used by Hollywood in portrayals of indigenous peoples and stresses the need for a culture to have influence on their own depiction. His pieces on The Revenant, Beyonce and sports mascots were among the most shared on .  SOURCE: National Speakers Bureau


An editorial introducing the concept of an “appropriation prize” for the author who can best embody the cultural experience of a minority group in Canada comes off as an attempt to steal one of the few things Indigenous people in Canada have left — their story, according to one Indigenous author.

“We’ve lost our land, we’ve lost our languages and almost the last thing we have left are our stories and our voices,” said D.A. Lockhart, a member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation in Chatham-Kent.

“To have somebody come in and say we’ll tell those better than you … is sort of a painful kick while you’re already down.”  SOURCE:  Appropriation Prize Controversy an Opportunity for Learning CBC NEWS

Mass Media consumes Mass Media, turning other forms of Mass Media into content  and incorporating/emulating  other Media’s Codes & Conventions.  In this process, appropriation of topics, subject matter and other aspects of content will be distorted intentionally & unintentionally through the Values, Beliefs & Ideologies of those delivering the Mass Media Text/Message. It becomes very easy for Mass Media creators & producers to appropriate a culture other than their own  through adoption & adaptation; we are only confronting the past and potential damage that this creates when a cultural group is overwhelmed by a more powerful (politically/economically) cultural group.  The question of who controls the narrative and to what purpose becomes a significant part of Mass Media, Media Literacy, and society at large.


On Red Wolf and Indigenous Representation in the New Marvel

James Leask , First Nations writer, presents an insightful article on the revival of Marvel’s First Nations Superhero, Red Wolf.  Red Wolf was Marvel’s first Native American superhero. The William Talltrees version of Red Wolf first appeared in the story “The Coming of Red Wolf!” published in Avengers #80 (cover-dated Sept. 1970), and was created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. The character appeared also in the next issue.

Avengers 80 - Red Wolf cv

The character became the star of the nine-issue series Red Wolf (May 1972 – Sept. 1973). The first six issues were set in the Old West of the 19th century.  These adventures featured Johnny Wakely.  In  issues #7-9,  Thomas Thunderhead a 1970s version of the Red Wolf  was featured in New York based adventures.

Marvel Spotlight 1 Red Wolf cv

Red WolfRed Wolf 7

Marvel comics is presently in the process of introducing an “updated” version of the character as it adjusts ( this-is-not-a-reboot ) universe with modifications to its more familiar characters.


Click image for background on Secrets of the All-New All-Different Marvel Image

Red Wolf All New All DifferentIt is not clear in what time period this new version will be having adventures. Leask  observes, “in the promo image, Red Wolf is dressed like the most problematic stereotype you have ever seen of an aboriginal person. He’s holding a bow and arrow. He’s wearing buckskin breeches. He’s wearing a loincloth on top of the buckskin breeches. He has a bone necklace and a warpaint. He’s not wearing a shirt. The only thing missing from the Injun Stereotype Bingo Card is a feather in his hair. It’s hard to make this more suspect-looking.”

This portrayal of a First Nations character reflects the Mass Media  Principle ” that all Mass Media art contain values, beliefs and ideologies.  As Leask point out, “having the aboriginal character dressed in warpaint and a loincloth sends one key message: he’s “savage.”That word has consistently plagued aboriginal people for centuries, and been used to justify any number of crimes and cruelties against us. It’s patently obvious Marvel isn’t trying to invoke that, but they are invoking it.”

This brings up another principle of Mass Media.  While conveying intended messages, Mass Media frequently conveys unintended  ones through lack of control of context or an unconscious acceptance of beliefs & values.“Of course, this is just a promotional image. We don’t know how Red Wolf will be included in All New, All Different Marvel or, for that matter, how he’ll be included in Secret Wars: 1872. We don’t know what books he’ll be in, who the creative team will be, or who he will be.”

Without a clear context, the audience is left with a visual image to derive a  context & expectation. While the earlier version of the character expressed many of the same stereotypical aspects  as this version, there was an attempt to fit the codes & conventions of a superhero. This new portrayal looks out of place next to the diverse contemporary characters displayed in the promo.

Read Leask’s the full analysis in the following link. 


On Red Wolf and Indigenous Representation in the New Marvel. via Comics Alliance

Rhymes for Young Ghouls

It’s 1976 on Red Crow M’igMaq Reservation. The Indian Act has hit its 100th anniversary and, as the title cards state in the opening of Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Her Majesty’s Government insists that every Indian child under the age of 16 must attend residential school. 1976 also marks the 15th year of a young woman named Alia, played by revelatory newcomer Devery Jacobs. Alia has less than a year to go until she can finally live outside the shadow of the rez, for she has been fortunate to escape the school by running drugs for her uncle Burner (Brandon Oakes) in order to pay off the school’s nasty Indian Agent, Popper (Mark Antony Krupa).
Rhymes for Young Ghouls P2Rhymes for Young Ghouls  (Canada, 90 min.)Written and directed by Jeff Barnaby

Starring: Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, Glen Gould, Brandon Oakes, Roseanne Supernault, Mark Antony Krupa

I have not had the opportunity to see this movie. Typical small town Canada does not get to see Canadian movies – distribution being controlled by the American chains makes that a given. Of course now distribution is a moot point, small theatres, like the one in our town, closed when the cost of changing over to digital projection became an insurmountable barrier.

Rhymes for Young Ghouls 1

I hope to see the film at some point. It conveys the dark horror that Canada is only slowly accepting.  It will be  movies such as these to bring the reality of the residential school system and its impact on both the First Nations People and Canada into a visual & symbolic  language that the average Canadian can appreciate. Dusty well-meaning research  and government wall paper separate us from the hard emotional truths that the country must face; only by entering the popular vernacular of cinema can we bridge the chasm of ignorance and denial.

Rhymes for Young Ghouls P1

The posters very effectively construct a reality that young film goers will be familiar with.  While the two  posters using shots from the movie play to the contemporary horror marketing. The artwork in the one poster suggests the current styles found in mature comics & graphic novels, which will also draw in the audience that will play to Native & non-Native.

Rhymes for Young Ghouls 2

Rhymes for Young Ghouls was written and directed by Jeff Barnaby

Mass Media  both shapes and conveys messages, which carry values, beliefs, and ideologies.  Using the tropes of the revenge-horror movie in combination with the real horrors of the residential schools constructs a reality where the young First Nations & Canadian audience can share an experience & understanding; hopefully, this movie, and others that will follow, can produce a common ground to start a conversation. In Dark Cinema Fantasy can be found truth.



Rhymes for Young Ghouls - Devery Jacobs

Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs in the role of Aila.

I recommend you read the Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs’ CBC interview –

Rhymes for Young Ghouls breakthrough role for young Quebec Mohawk.

For  an excellent exploration of the importance of this movie from a First Nations perspective please read

Why every Canadian should be haunted by Rhymes for Young Ghouls by âpihtawikosisân (Chelsea Vowel)  .




Alberta Rethink Your Advertising

Now here is a gift of a lesson.  We have environmental issues, geography, tourism, economics, media literacy, advertising and propaganda, Canadian and World News, indigenous cultures and First Nations  media technology, and of course media principles.  You could even throw in mathematics and science. So lets take a look at the course material that has been provided by the Alberta Government, CBC, and the RETHINK ALBERTA campaign.

Background Information: July 2, 2010 a letter from Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach that emphasized the benefits of Alberta’s  oilsands industry to the United States was published  in a paid half-page advertisement in the Washington Post.The letter had been rejected as an opinion piece for the editorial page. The province paid $55,800 to place the ad.

Corporate Ethics International, an American based group launched a campaign against “the Alberta Tar Sands Disaster” on Wednesday July 14, 2010.  The campaign included billboards in four U.S. cities  and an online component that included a video that was also avail able on YouTube .

The groups involved include:

The Calumet Project– a church based group from Indiana

The Business Ethics Network– “the largest network of corporate campaign organizations North America”  (their claim)

EARTHWORKS Mission – a non-profit organization

Friends of the Earth Canada (FoE)

ForestEthics – a nonprofit environmental organization

Global Community Monitor – trains and supports communities in the use of environmental monitoring tools

Polaris Institute – “enable citizen movements to re-skill and re-tool themselves to fight for democratic social change’ (their claim)


Rainforest Action Network (RAN) – headquartered in San Francisco

July 16, 2010 Rethink Alberta admits that the 90-second video that said oilsands development in Alberta is destroying an area twice the size of England was incorrect. The size is the same as England, not twice the size.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010 Greenpeace demonstrators rappelled from the Calgary Tower on Tuesday, unfurling a banner denouncing what they say is a too-close relationship between the oilsands industry and the Alberta  government.

Thursday, August 5, 2010 Alberta Government responded to the negative advertisements with $268,000-campaign running in  the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper.  Advertisements in American newspapers were also run.

Monday, August 9, 2010  The  polling company Angus Reid reports that the Rethink video has had a  significant impact on public opinion.

Media Productions to consider with students:

The Billboard

The Video

Video Messages from the Alberta government can be found at: Government of Alberta on YouTube

Alberta’s Oil Sands and a variety of tourism videos can be found Travel Alberta, Canada

Here is a sample of two videos from Alberta government sanctioned sites:

Evaluation and discussion topics to consider with your students:

1. Consider the uses of AIDA, claims, and appeals.

2. What is the difference between advertising, public service messages, and propaganda ?

3. What are the biases ?

4. Basic Media Principles: What is the business interest ?  Go beyond oil companies and consider the opposing point of view.

Who is the target audience ?

How is the message shaped / reality constructed ?

What are the codes and conventions used in the different videos ?   How do these differences affect the viewer ?

What are the intended values and beliefs ?

Are there unintended messages ?

Notes to educatorsBesides the media literacy  potential there is a lot information and misinformation that could be related to other subject areas. Environmental science and statistical studies are two obvious ones. The unintentional errors or mistakes in presented data leads to lessons in research methods and accuracy.

A Final Observation: What struck me as significant in terms of media was how out of touch the Alberta government appears to be in their response.  They fall back on print media and public announcements to news outlets . They have their own channel on YouTube and encourage social media use, but they have failed to create an effective positive emotional message to counter the effective one created by Rethink.  Newsprint is not going to carry their message effectively. Depending on which side of the issue you tend to be, that is either a good thing or a serious problem.