Religion and Sight - Louise Child

Religion and Sight - Louise Child

3. Obscuring Two-Spirit Deaths in the Films Conversion and Fire Song

Religion and Sight - Louise Child

Gabriel Estrada [+-]
California State University, Long Beach
Tenured in American Indian Studies and promoted to Professor of Religious Studies at CSU Long Beach, Dr. Gabriel S. Estrada holds a PhD in Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies from the University of Arizona at Tucson. Queer Indigenous media, Nahuatl language, and Indigenous literature are Dr. Estrada’s main areas of study. Co-Chair of the American Academy of Religion Indigenous Religious Traditions Unit, Dr. Estrada is author of “Navajo Sci-Fi Film: Matriarchal Visual Sovereignty in Nanobah Becker’s The 6th World” in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, “Cloud Atlas’ Queer Tiki Kitsch: Polynesia, Settler Colonialism, and Sci-Fi Film” in Journal of Religion and Film, and “Trans*lating the X in Caxcan and Xicanx Literature” in Decolonizing Latinx Masculinities. They are currently working on a book manuscript Two-Spirit Media Rising: Innepanta Trans*Indigenous Media Spaces. A two-spirit HIV+scholar/activist and a Caxcan, Raramuri, Chiricahua Apache, and Chicana/o descendent, Dr. Estrada is Secretary of both Indigenous Pride LA and the City of Angeles Two-Spirit Society (CATSS).


Through “visualizing sovereignty,” Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora) offers a theoretical lens by which to analyze spiritual film images as expressions of indigenous self-determination (1995, 2011). Rickard’s work guides this analysis of how three indigenous films differently represent the deceased body. In the Navajo-language short film Conversion (2005), director Nanobah Becker (Navajo) interrogates the 1950s Christian proselytism on Navajo Nation that leads to the death of a local medicine man. In the film’s climactic scene, Becker honors matrilineal Navajo protocols surrounding the medicine man’s death by not showing his dead body. In contrast, Euro-American director Lydia Nibley breaks this visual corpse protocol in Two Spirits (2010) by depicting near-horror level images of the bloody stoning of Navajo trans* youth Fred Martinez. However, despite Nibley’s inattention to Navajo death protocols and some aspects of visual sovereignty, Native American LGBTQ/Two-Spirit activists were able effect an editing out of the naked muddy bodies of Euro-American Radical Faeries and their settler colonial claims to represent universal queer spirituality in her film. Finally, the Metis-Cree director Adam Garnet Jones graphically presents a rape, two suicides, and rampant drug use in his queer Anishnaabe film Fire Song (2015). While Jones cinematically responds to the ascending trend of teen-suicides and homophobia on First Nation reserves, the film’s resolution of ceremonially burning the dead’s belonging offers too little hope and historical context to counterbalance the feature’s visual depiction of gendered indigenous body traumas. Through attention to camera angle, bodies in shot composition, and film editing, this paper concludes that all three movies demonstrate how obscuring the deceased gendered body can be a strong spiritual act of visualizing sovereignty.

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Estrada, Gabriel. 3. Obscuring Two-Spirit Deaths in the Films Conversion and Fire Song. Religion and Sight. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 46-66 Jul 2020. ISBN 9781781797495. Date accessed: 19 Jul 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.35746. Jul 2020

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