- Crooked Arrows dir. by Steve Rash
Crooked Arrows is the first commercial feature film about lacrosse in its modern and ancient forms among Native Americans. Set on the fictional Sunaquot Indian reservation in upstate New York, the film explores the sport's very real cultural meanings for the peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy. Situated at the nexus of Native and non-Native cultures, it examines the interplay of tradition and modernity in the lives of twenty-first-century American Indians. In addition to addressing the social and spiritual aspects of Iroquois lacrosse, Crooked Arrows confronts one of the most divisive issues in many Native communities today: the benefits and pitfalls of Indian casinos. According to the National Indian Gaming Commission, 241 federally-recognized tribes currently own 473 casinos in the United States earning $27 billion annually. Throughout Indian country, those who embrace casinos as a means to tribal economic sovereignty stand against opponents who see casino deals with non-Native developers as a betrayal of cultural and territorial heritage.
The movie stars Brandon Routh, an actor with Kickapoo heritage and best known for playing the title role in Superman Returns. Routh plays Joe Logan, a conflicted mixed race [End Page 475] manager of the local Sunaquot casino. His boss is a nefarious white investor who schemes to expand the casino's footprint on the reservation. Joe supports the project as a means to fund a hospital, the lack of which had contributed to his white mother's death. The council conditionally agrees to trade more land for promised casino profits as long as Joe reconnects with his Native heritage. The tribal chairman, his father Ben, requires him to coach the school's lacrosse team, which competes against elite prep schools. The Sunaquots are plagued by selfish play, a resignation to losing, and a small roster, even forcing Joe's younger sister Nadie to suit up in one game covertly. Preoccupied with personal affluence, Joe neither takes his new coaching job seriously nor values his Native culture. He must also work with his former high school sweetheart Julie, a white educator and author of a book on Sunaquot culture, who is the reservation's new high school teacher.
After winning a bet against his players, Joe leads them on a run up a small mountain, Defiance Rock, where he introduces them to a wood craftsman named Crooked Arrow. Besides instructing the team on the spirituality of lacrosse, he gives each player a handcrafted hickory lacrosse stick shaft. He tells them every crooked arrow finds its way. Subsequently, the team abandons its Jackpots nickname in favor of "Crooked Arrows," and Joe changes his vanity plate from WAMPUM to CRKD ARWS. When the full extent of the developer's expansion plan is revealed at the end of the season, the players turn against Joe. In confessing his dark past to his sister, Joe reveals how alienated he felt as the only Native at the prestigious Coventry Academy and how he intentionally lost a high school lacrosse championship game. For much of his adult life, he has resigned himself to improving his own material life and that of the reservation. Realizing he has now betrayed the spirit of lacrosse twice, Joe makes amends by having a contractor secretly build a modern lacrosse field without the approval of the casino investor. Joe retakes control of the team for the championship game against his alma mater, telling his players, "Today, win or lose, we return lacrosse to our people." The team's inspired performance leads one surprised blonde white female spectator to ask ironically, "When did the Indians start playing lacrosse anyway?" The film's soundtrack includes English punk band Chumbawamba's signature song "Tubthumping." The song's refrain underscores the persistence of Native culture in the face of modernity and the personal redemption of Joe Logan: "I get knocked down, but I get up again. You're never gonna keep me down."
Although much of Crooked Arrows' formulaic storytelling is...