TV show reaches out to a Ramapough tribe
Editors Note An AP Member Exchange. Please credit the member.
By ALLISON PRIES
The Record of Woodland Park
MAHWAH, N.J. (AP) _ The Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation will again provide the backdrop for a Hollywood script when a television series premiering this month wraps its story line around a Native American community that is similar to the tribe.
But outreach to the community from the show's creative team and cast may help soften opposition to the project _ a stark contrast to the outrage that a recent film incited from both tribe members and local officials in Mahwah.
Tribe members _ who live in enclaves in Mahwah, Ringwood and neighboring New York State towns _ say they have historically been portrayed as substance abusers who live outside the law. And they routinely have been stigmatized as poor and uneducated.
The Sundance Channel's fictional program, ``The Red Road,'' comes on the heels of the movie, ``Out of the Furnace,'' that prompted two lawsuits protesting the tribe's portrayal _ one a $50 million civil complaint from 17 members of the Ramapough community _ and a public outcry from local officials about the December film.
Several tribe members said they are reserving judgment about ``The Red Road'' until its Feb. 27 premiere on the cable network, which will soon be renamed SundanceTV.
Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry told The Record of Woodland Park (http://bit.ly/1jnZPtZ) that having a tribe member as a consultant on the production of ``The Red Road'' is one positive.
``I was pleased that they would ask our consideration, but if it has racial overtones, I would find it offensive,'' said Perry, who spoke with the show's creators.
Autumn Wind Scott, a Ramapough living in Toms River who worked as the consultant on the series, said the six episodes will leave viewers wanting more.
``It just shows, in terms of contemporary native culture, the love and tenderness and traditions that survive and how they have been modified in a modern society . (which) is admirable given what the tribe is up against,'' she said.
Wind said the series' writers were ``generous enough'' to include as a ``sub, sub, subplot'' the toxic pollution caused by an old industrial plant's contamination of the tribal land _ an event that mirrors what occurred in the mountains of Upper Ringwood when Ford Motor Co. dumped paint sludge from its Mahwah factory, which the Ramapoughs have called environmental racism.
The 17 tribe members who filed the civil lawsuit about ``Out of the Furnace'' _ Perry is not among them _ were primarily concerned with being portrayed in a false light;the movie uses DeGroat and Mann, two common last names among the Ramapoughs, for characters who are depicted as violent, drug abusers and lawbreakers.
``The Red Road'' centers on a police officer who struggles to keep his family (a recovering alcoholic wife and two teenage daughters) together while policing Walpole, a town outside New York City where he grew up that includes a mountain area that is home to a federally unrecognized Native American tribe.
The tribe and the rest of the town folks are divided. And the police officer, played by Martin Henderson, must deal with several issues: finding a New York University student who took a cab to the mountains and went missing; his teenage daughter and her unapproved relationship with a ``Lenape'' boy; his wife's emotional problems that are in part caused by her brother's death as a teenager when he was hanging in the mountains with tribe members; and a former high school classmate and ex-con, played by Jason Momoa, who mysteriously returns to his mountain neighborhood _ and with whom Henderson's character forms an uneasy partnership.
The story line will unravel over six, one-hour episodes, but the trailer has begun airing and is available on the Sundance Channel's website.
Lydia Cotz, the attorney who filed the civil suit about ``Out of the Furnace,'' said some of her clients ``have communicated to her that they have seen the trailer'' and they feel it's ``offensive.''
An early version of the show referred to tribe members as descendants of ``slaves and whores,'' but the phrase was removed from a final version, according to Scott.
The term ``the red road'' means a spiritual path or journey in the Native American culture, Scott said.
Scott, who for three decades has worked as an advocate and educator of Native American culture, was brought on to help with art direction, scripts, casting and made introductions between the creative team and tribe members, a spokeswoman for Sundance Channel said.
The creative team visited the tribe ``to depict complex elements of the plot with accuracy and respect,'' the Sundance spokeswoman said. Momoa also visited the community.
Scott said her contributions to the show centered on the Lenape culture. ``The way our men are portrayed. The way they would or would not talk to their children. How our women are warriors who advocate fiercely for our cause. And how we all come together.''
The Native Americans in the show and the others in the larger community have more in common than what separates them, she said.
``There are some teachable moments even under the concept of being fiction,'' Scott said.
Scott also said the show's creators were sensitive to the community's concerns about negative depictions.
For instance, the use of the term ``Jackson Whites,'' which Scott said was initially used by show characters, was later removed when she explained its offensiveness. The word touched a nerve when spoken in ``Out of the Furnace.''
``It's another word for the N-word,'' Scott said.
With advances in technology making documents and historical facts more readily available, Scott said, the Ramapoughs want the same respect for their ancestry and culture that other groups have demanded.
``People are just fed up,'' she said. ``Everyone is at the point where we're not going to have our children and grandchildren endure the suffrage of racism.''
The Sundance spokeswoman describes the show as ``a crime drama but a hard-hitting look at lost dreams, racial tension, tragedy and the pain of love.''
Scott said she doesn't expect everybody within the tribe to like the show. ``There is nobody anywhere, in any group that all agree on liking one'' thing, she said.
Vivian Milligan, a Ringwood Ramapough, said she heard some people at a tribal meeting saying they were ``a little disappointed with the trailer.''
But the involvement of the community in developing the show is resonating.
``I have a great deal more respect for (the makers of ``The Red Road'') than for ``Out of the Furnace,'' because they wanted to come here and get to know us and see and understand why people live a certain way,'' said Alicia Butler, a Mahwah Ramapough, who said the tribe is often misunderstood for wanting to live with generations of families all in one neighborhood.
Exactly what reception ``The Red Road'' will receive is unclear. Since it hasn't aired yet, many people are unfamiliar with it.
Eunice DeGroat, a senior citizen and one of Cotz's plaintiffs, said that she's ``never heard of'' ``The Red Road.'' Asked whether she might watch it when it airs in two weeks she said, ``There's only three things I watch on TV. I go to bed pretty early.''
Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com
By The Associated Press, Copyright 2014