In 2017, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) released his directorial debut Wind River to almost universal critical acclaim. The film’s subject matter, for one, was cutting and current. Released months before the #MeToo movement exploded on the scene, Wind River focused on sexual assault cases on reservations and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Despite an 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a best director award for Sheridan at Cannes and a box office take four times its budget, Wind River fell flat at awards season. Some pointed to producer Harvey Weinstein as a reason for the oversight.
When Weinstein sexual assault crimes came to public view, Sheridan fought The Weinstein Company for exclusive rights to his film. The studio gave up the distribution without a fuss, and Sheridan pledged Wind River’s future royalties to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. With DVD and Blu-Ray sales of almost six million dollars and licensing deals with Netflix and airlines, that pledge should have been a powerful gift for Native American women across the United States. Unfortunately, a recent press release from NIWRC indicates studio politics have again stood between Wind River and the resources and attention Indigenous women deserve.
The press release reads:[lborder]
It is important to note that NIWRC has not yet received any money from the royalties of Wind River.
Shortly after the royalty agreement was announced between the Weinstein Company (TWC) and Taylor Sheridan’s production company, TWC declared bankruptcy, clearing TWC from any obligation to abide by the royalty agreement. Another production company recently bought out TWC, and it remains unclear whether it will voluntarily honor the agreement to donate TWC future royalties from Wind River to the NIWRC, as it is not bound by the previous agreement. Furthermore, given the complexities of the situation, it may take months or years before a final determination is made. In the meantime, we maintain regular communication with Taylor Sheridan and his staff and are thankful that Mr. Sheridan continues his advocacy on behalf of NIWRC and our mission to end violence against Native women and girls.
This isn’t a new dynamic or a terribly surprising one. Throughout the history of Indigenous-Settler relations, treaties have been made and broken at native people’s expense. However, the failure to follow-through remains disappointing.
It’s particularly tragic a movie with so much promise and apparent good intention has continued to see its efforts stymied. Wind River’s current distributor is Lionsgate. As of this writing, neither Lionsgate nor Sheridan has publicly commented on the pledge, or NIWRC’s press release.
Travis Roberts, a citizen of the Manitoba Métis Federation, is a writer and social worker living in Washington, DC. Follow him at his blog, or connect with him on twitter @TravisWMRoberts