'Native Entertainment' Magazine Courts Controversy in Indian Country
Flipping through the pages of Native Entertainment magazine, you'll find a lot of risqué content that is absent, for the most part, from other Native-oriented magazines.
Since its premiere issue came out in February of 2009, the contemporary entertainment, music, and art magazine has cast a wide net, presenting articles and profiles on actors, rappers, and heavy metal bands, as well as less-expected material such as political pieces. One constant in every issue, however, is the photos of tattoos and sexy Native men and women.
"It’s kind of a weird road we’re on, because we’re paving a new path," says Tito Gutierrez, Navajo, the magazine’s creator and editor who runs it out of his 2,000 square foot building in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "When we came out, we were the only magazine of our caliber."
"Everything before us was either scholastic-based or if there was a quote-Indian-unquote [focus], they had to jab a feather in there somewhere, or they were wearing some kind of turquoise, or something that said, 'Hey, I'm an Indian! Look at me!'"
Gutierrez rejects the notion that all Natives represented in media have to fit into an assumed, sometimes even exploited mold of what Natives should strive to look and act like. "We don’t want to culturally exploit anything," he says. "You’ll never find feathers or Indian religion; you’ll never find buckskin; you’ll never find pottery or turquoise."
As a result of paving a new path, Gutierrez has faced his strongest critics from within the Native community, who continually claim he’s exploiting Native men and women and "acting white" for having pictures of scantily clad women or an annual Sexiest People contest.
Gutierrez faults such critics as having racist double standards, saying those same people have no problem if African American or white people have similar magazines, or tv networks like BET or MTV, doing the same thing he’s doing. Critics of Native Entertainment, Gutierrez says, "have made a decision to say it’s OK when other races do it and they have no problem with it. But when a Native decides to do it, it’s somehow wrong?"
Gutierrez says Natives are real people who live in a real modern world, and they do rap or rock out and have a plethora of emotions and desires aside from the stoic caricatures that date to Hollywood westerns and the imagery of Edward S. Curtis. "We were the first to showcase all these crazy and supposedly 'forbidden' elements of who we are as a people," Gutierrez says.
The way Gutierrez sees it, whenever Natives try to do something that is "daring and bold," the loudest naysayers are always other Natives who feel they can dictate what Indians should or shouldn’t strive to be. For Gutierrez, it creates a self-enforcing stereotype. "That goes to what I call the 'Pocahontas syndrome,'" he says. "People are taught by Hollywood what to believe about who we are supposed to be and how we’re supposed to be."
Gutierrez says he has had no difficulty finding male or female Native models who will show off their sex appeal -- on the contrary, many tell him they are tired of the typical Native-themed photo shoots they are expected to do, whether it's wearing traditional attire or posing in front of a mesa. "We’re the go-to company for girls who want go beyond that," he says. "They’re excited to do something beyond what has already been done."
"Native men and women are just as intelligent and sexy as any other race," Gutierrez adds. But he says that he has noticed a a trend of hypocrisy along gender lines. Gutierrez maintains that one doesn’t have to look perfect to be in his magazine. "It’s OK to just be regular," he says. "It’s OK to be just a regular person in our own necks of the woods who you may or may not assume is sexy -- but they really are."
He has found some strong supporters, surprisingly enough, among Native elders. "We’ve had a lot of elders say they’ve been waiting for a magazine like this since they were teenagers," he says. That doesn't mean they're lining up to subscribe to Native Entertainment -- they might not always like the content, but they encourage the principle. The supportive elders feel that Natives presenting a realistic self-depiction, Gutierrez says, is an improvement over a narrative framed by non-Natives.
Loved or hated, Native Entertainment has demonstrated its longevity -- magazine publishing in the internet age is littered with the corpses of start-up magazines that didn't survive for anywhere close to three years. With American Indians making more impact than ever in the entertainment industry, Gutierrez and his publication might be in the right place at the right time.
For more information, visit nativeentertainmentmagazine.com.