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Book: Religion and Sight

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

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.35746


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.

Chapter Contributors

  • Gabriel Estrada ( - gestrada) 'California State University, Long Beach'