Songs My Brothers Taught Me Shows Lives on the Rez
Songs My Brothers Taught Me
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Written by Chloé Zhao
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
*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:
- Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post
- Amber Wilkinson, Eye For Film
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.