CHICAGO (WLS) — November is Native American Heritage Month and a Midwestern filmmaker is on a mission to make strides for his community in the industry.
Michael Begay said he is the only professional Native American filmmaker in the Midwest. He said the only way to see more Native Americans working in the film entertainment industry is if the community takes power into their own hands.
In addition to his work as a filmmaker, Begay spends time teaching others how to get a foot in the door.
“This is why I started Windy City Navajo studio is to get more indigenous people behind a camera. Get the ideas that’s in their head and make it visual for other people can see.”
Begay has made a name for himself in the entertainment industry, filming native dance performances, TV shows and movies around the world, from Chicago to Hollywood.
“All the way down to new Zealand, even out to Paris,” Begay said.
He said he understands the difficulty of trying to get a seat at the table. He teaches film workshops to kids on working behind and in front of the camera.
“The only time when indigenous people, we can rise, is when we know how to control our own story on the stage,” Begay said.
While there’s been an increase in films and TV shows featuring native or indigenous people, like FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” the 2023 Hollywood Diversity Report showed native actors make up just 0.6% of the film industry. Amongst writers, directors, and producers, Native Americans are virtually non-existent.
“I grew up watching obviously Disney Channel and I never seen anybody that looked like me,” dancer and actress Aaliyah Begay said.
She said the more people that can see their culture played out on mainstream media, the more they can learn.
“I have a small part into educating the world about Native Americans, and what we’re going through and our history.”
“We’re reversing all the stereotypes within the industry, and that’s the thing that we’re trying to break,” Michael Begay said.”