Representation Matters: An Indigenous Filmmaker’s Thoughts About ‘Prey’

In addition to being an exciting sci-fi action horror movie, the film Prey is a beautiful depiction of Native American life. While watching it I couldn’t help but be enthralled by the culture that was presented. My curiosity was piqued, and so I embarked on a journey to discover more about the film’s representation of Indigenous people. 

When reaching out to the indigenous community, I was lucky enough to connect with Mozart Gabriel. As well as being a talented musician and teacher, Mozart is part of the Sundance Film Institute as a writer and has a Master’s degree in stop motion animation. He infuses his Pueblo and Navajo heritage into his artistic outlets and is passionate about spreading information about all indigenous peoples. Mozart was generous enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with me about the movie Prey, and how the film represents Indigenous culture on the big screen.

We started by talking about the recent increase in Indigenous representation in media.

“I work with a lot of Native Americans in the industry. I know Jhane [Myers] the producer of the movie Prey and I’ve seen Amber Midthunder start her career since, I think she was 12 or 14, in the Santa Fe area. So it was really amazing to see this film. We have a lot of new indigenous series coming out, and a lot of films coming out”

Amber Midthunder on the set of Prey
[Credit 20th Century Studios]

When responding to the film Prey, Mozart had a lot of feelings about the film’s portrayal of the Indigenous people. But he also had a strong reaction to the way the production highlighted a strong connection with the earth, not just as a setting, but as a character itself.

“This one, for me, wasn’t over-romanticized. It felt so present in its way and the cinematography was completely brilliant. I think that the way that it gave you clues and it respected the landscape. Like when she’s picking the flowers and then they rack focus to the tree and then the sounds of the trees give her the inspiration that she wants to go and practice throwing the ax in the beginning. You know, there are little subtleties like that, that compliments the fact that Mother Earth is a character itself. This and a huge thing about being indigenous is, giving yourself to the Earth. 

Scene from the movie Prey
[Credit 20th Century Studios]

I think that visual storytelling and giving that respect, especially having that communication within the medicine that she has, also gives the earth a character, which I think is very rare. We don’t give enough respect to the things that give us life every day and we’re talking about survival. They say the Kuhtaamia is not about killing, it’s about learning how to survive and I think that’s so romantic. When we give the Earth such a good character, the way that you learn how to survive through knowing nature and the trees and your surroundings gives the upper hand of being indigenous. And I thought it was so beautifully written from that perspective.”

Mozart made a point of highlighting the lack of a western patriarchal mentality in Prey.

“None of it was sexist. They didn’t judge her as a girl, they judged her for her morals and her reasons. Like why she wanted to do something, spiritually. She’s totally capable and everybody knows that, they just kind of look at her as being young and naive. But I think it’s beautiful that we push the theme of a female character who just wants to protect your village. I think that that perspective and the perspective of how much that older brother [Dacota Beavers] didn’t have such an ego. We’re looking through their perspective, an indigenous way of communicating. There’s no point in us having egos because there’s too much work that needs to be done in a village. That’s how we survive as villages for such a long time.”

We had to acknowledge the negative reactions that Prey has received. Gabriel didn’t shy away from calling out those in the native community who have had harsh words for this film.

Scene from the movie Prey
[Credit 20th Century Studios]

“I see on Tiktok that there’s a lot of frustration about the movie and I think that the frustration comes from the fact that it really isn’t a Predator movie. It was a great excuse to tell a great native story and the Predator just happened to be involved. It was just very unlucky of the Predator to come into this woman’s strong adventure and her desire to give back to her village. I think that’s what’s really incredible about it. If there’s anybody who’s mad about it, who is indigenous, I think that they’re conflicted on the sense that that’s a female character. Maybe that’s not too much of it, but I’ve seen a lot of people get mad and say ‘I didn’t like it very much’. I was like ‘why, because it was a female character and you couldn’t get along with it?’. And I’ve seen people say ‘man, I didn’t think of it from that perspective’.”

Gabriel had one last shoutout to his friend, and producer of Prey, Jhane Myers.

“The last thing I want to mention is about Jhane Myers, the producer. She is such an incredible, strong woman. She has such great children…the way she’s raised her children to be strong and stand up for themselves, and with such confidence. It has been so inspiring to the Native American community and Jhane Myers has been such a great energy, and very respectful to that community. It only makes sense that she would produce something so honest.”

Jhane Myers and Amber Midthunder on the set of Prey
[Credit 20th Century Studios]

The film Prey has added to a growing number of successful entertainment properties that include a more diverse perspective. Shows like Reservation Dogs, Ms. Marvel, and movies like Black Panther and its sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever have proven that these voices can be valuable contributions to our media landscape. I am proud to join Mozart Gabriel, and all who are calling for more media representation for indigenous voices, and the voices of all who have been marginalized and kept out of the narrative for far too long. Because representation matters.

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