Shilling's story is about Native actors walking off the set of Adam Sandler's new movie, The Ridiculous Six, because of the ways the script denigrates Native women and mocks Native culture via the names created for Native characters and in the dialogue: Never Wears Bra (in an earlier version of the script, her name was Sits on Face), Strawberry Tits, Stiff In Pants.
People are outraged. I am, too.
Though not as crude as the ones in the script, I've seen that same sort of thing in children's books. Here's some examples:
In Russell Hoban's Soonchild, a couple is expecting their first child. The man's name is "Sixteen Face John" because he has sixteen different faces, all with their own names. They are described in the first chapter. His first face is his (p. 3):
Hi face, the one he said hello with. Face Two was What? Face Three was Really? Face Four was Well, Well. Face Five was Go On! Face Six was You Don't Mean It. Face Seven was You Mean it? Face Eight was That'll Be The Day. Face Nine was What Day Will That Be? Face Ten was It Can't Be That Bad. Face Eleven was Can It Be That Bad? Face Twelve was I Don't Believe It. Face Thirteen was I Believe It. Face Fourteen was This Is Serious. Face Fifteen was What I'm Seeing Is What It Is. Face Sixteen was What It's Seeing Is What I Am.He's a shaman from a long line of shamans (p. 6):
His mother was Stay With It and his father was Go Anywhere. His mother's mother was Never Give Up and her father was Try Anything. His father's mother was Do It Now and his father's father was Whatever Works. His mother's grandmother was Where Is It? and his father's grandmother was Don't Miss Anything. His mother's grandfather was Everything Matters and his father's grandfather was Go All The Way.And... his wife's name is No Problem. Her mother's name is Take It Easy. Her friend is Way To Go. Soonchild was published in 2012 by Candlewick Press.
In Me Oh Maya, Jon Scieszka makes fun of Mayan names. His much-loved Time Warp Trio travels to the midst of a Mayan ball court where an "evil high priest" named Kakapupahed stands over them. They try not to laugh aloud at his name, which they hear as Cacapoopoohead. Me Oh Maya was published in 2003 by Viking.
None of this is new to children's literature. Some of you may recall titles from your childhood like Indian Two Feet and Little Indian and Little Runner of the Longhouse.
I find these attempts to come up with Native names troubling and problematic in so many ways. Equally troubling are the ways they are described. Hoban's book, for example, got starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly who noted his use of "slapstick" in tackling "the big questions" about life. Booklist, meanwhile, called it profound and offhandedly glib.
Sandler has, thus far, issued no response to Native people regarding his script and reaction to it. The film Sandler is making is slated to air on Netflix. A spokesperson for Netflix did reply (as reported by Vulture) by saying:
"The movie has ridiculous in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous. It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of — but in on — the joke."
In other words, they're telling the world that Native people are in on the joke. Rather than listen to Native voices, they defend what they're doing.
I contend that children's books are part of the problem. Things given to young people matter. Giving them books that poke fun of Native names pave the way for the creation and defense of what we see in Sandler's movie.
I'll be back with an update if Sandler or Netflix issue any statements, but carry this with you as you select--or weed--books in your library: Names matter. Nobody's names ought to be fodder for satire or humor, whether it is by Adam Sandler or Jon Sciezka.