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Native American Actors Walk Off Set of Adam Sandler Movie


About a dozen actors walked off the set of an Adam Sandler movie this week. It's a Western send-up being filmed for Netflix. The actors were protesting what they saw as insensitive, even degrading, portrayals of Native Americans. Karen Grigsby Bates from NPR's Code Switch team reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Mohawk journalist Vincent Schilling writes for Indian Country Media Network and got a hot tip from an actor friend on Wednesday - a group of Native American actors left in the middle of filming "The Ridiculous Six," a takeoff on the classic "The Magnificent Seven." The actors said some of the humor they were being requested to perform was insulting to native elders and women. Long (ph) told Schilling he told the producer he understood satire, but this was beyond the pale.

VINCENT SCHILLING: That producer said, well, if you don't like it, if you're sensitive to it, you can leave.

BATES: Which is what they did. Schilling says another actor videotaped the remark and that he'll post the video on his website soon. Sandler's movies are always broad comedy that rely on slapstick physicality and juvenile jokes, says Karen Tongson, a professor at the University of Southern California, who teaches popular culture and gender studies. Tongson says an earlier Sandler movie, "50 First Dates," raised hackles in Hawaii for Rob Schneider's portrayal of a laid-back, conniving islander.


ROB SCHNEIDER: (As Ula) By the way, cuz, I met this sexy, blonde tax attorney at Starbucks today.

ADAM SANDLER: (As Henry) Uh-huh.

SCHNEIDER: (As Ula) I told her you the kahuna she wanna have fun with on this island.

SANDLER: (As Henry) Uh-huh.

SCHNEIDER: (As Ula) You want her number?

BATES: Tongson says Sandler may feel OK about poking fun at other ethnicities because he plays on his own Jewish heritage from time to time. Sometimes, Tongson says, movies will introduce a stereotype character in order to flip the script and surprise the audience with a depth that refutes the stereotype. Tongson believes Sandler movies usually have him, the clueless manchild, evolving into a more understanding person by the time the credits roll. But the characters who are stereotypes remain stereotypes. They don't get to evolve.

KAREN TONGSON: It does nothing to transform our ideas of stereotype. It invokes the stereotype without flipping the script. And in that sense it, you know, runs the risk of really perpetuating it.

BATES: Netflix stands by Sandler's comedy so far, calling it broad satire. Vincent Schilling says while walking off the set is satisfying, some of the Native American actors stayed because they had family obligations.

SCHILLING: I would imagine that any parent that has to work there and do that in the face of this and feed their kids are doing it with the thought that maybe I can do this so that someday my kids won't have to.

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Bates