Songs My Brothers Taught Me Shows Lives on the Rez

 In Drama, Everything, Good, Woman Director, Woman Writer
Picture of Taysha Fuller, Irene Bedard and John Reddy in the motion picture Songs My Brothers Taught Me.

Songs My Brothers Taught Me

Directed by Chloé Zhao
Written by Chloé Zhao

The review:

Depictions of Rez Life are rare in film, and it’s saying something that a Chinese director, not an American, was the person who made this film about Johnny and Jashaun Winter and their life on the Pine Ridge Reservation.* This is a Wandering Through sort of film and there’s much to observe, though there is a bit of plot holding everything together.** This film showed depressing and hopeful aspects of a community that seems to exist in America without much notice by the general public.

The verdict: Good

Cost: Free via Kanopy, the library’s free streaming service.
Where watched: at home

Consider also watching:

  • The Rider
  • Smoke Signals
  • I don’t have much knowledge in this area.
  • Here is a list from Indian Country Today

Further sentences:

*I was first introduced to Zhao with the 2018’s excellent The Rider, which also takes place on Pine Ridge.
**As with The Rider, the plot is not super important. Zhao is great at holding your attention.


  • What would life on the Rez look like if a billion promises hadn’t been broken?
  • What do you think it would take to have a regular pipeline of Indian-produced films?

Favorite IMDB trivia item:

On a DVD extra, director Chloé Zhao said of the tight budget, light plotting, and neo-realist style casting, “We’re capturing truth—because truth is the only thing we can afford.” The production used mostly local residents as actors, and, according to Zhao, 80% of the story depicted is true to the actual life of the young man playing Johnny Winters (John Reddy). The house that Winters lives in is the house that Reddy lived in, and Reddy, also one of twenty-five children to one father, has many of his real family members playing members of his family. In fact, the man shown delivering the eulogy for Winters’ father is Reddy’s actual father.

Other reviews of Songs My Brothers Taught Me:

Orange background with a white frame. Text: Thing about breaking a horse is, don't run 'em all the time. 'Cause if you're gonna just keep running a horse, you're gonna break its spirit. Anything that runs wild got something bad in 'em. You want to leave some of that in there. 'Cause they need it to survive out here. —Songs My Brothers Taught Me. Read the three sentence movie review.
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  • Patricia Collins

    If a million promises hadn’t been broken, I think Rez Life would look like Reservations not existing. The USA has a long way to go as a country so that Indians have the same chances as average citizens.

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