Ah, October. Beautiful weather, nature brightens before our eyes, and movie season begins on our screens! It is a great time of year, and it’s this writer’s favorite. The coming months usually bring us the best movies of the year as well as the Denver Film Festival in November. Stay tuned for that. This month, I review several different things—a movie, a TV show, and a short story collection. I want to acknowledge Indigenous People’s Day on Oct. 9, and on top of that, as a proud Italian American, I am sincerely happy that Columbus Day is a thing of the past. Italian Americans have enriched the mix of this country, but Christopher Columbus might be the worst flag-bearer to that end. I prefer to celebrate what I call the “3 Fs” of Italian/Italian American Culture: Food, Fashion, and Film. In that vein, I have included a little of each in this review. As nature changes in the fall, so does the column for this month.
One reminder: We continue our climate film series Earth’s Reel Resilience on Oct. 6 with a wonderful Vietnamese film, Nuoc 2030, and then Don’t Look Up on Oct. 13. Both shows begin at 6pm at The Cube in Northfield. Please bring non-perishable food donations for our MSU Denver food bank if you can. Hope to see you there!
“She moved our glamour and good looks into the level of activism.” This quote from this fascinating documentary sums up the theme of the film about the life of Bethann Hardison. Hardison is the “godmother” of fashion, as Naomi Campbell states, and her life is indeed worthy of the praise. Hardison was a pioneering model, then agent, and always activist. She has promoted Black women in this cutthroat industry, one, that like many others, is particularly hard for Black women to even crack. Hence the title.
Hardison co-directs the film along with Frédéric Tcheng, and we get to see the process of making the film along with the story of Hardison’s life. The glimpse into process adds another layer, since the world of film is no different than the world of fashion for Black women. We see Hardison breaking down yet even more walls with the film itself. Overall, this is an illuminating, invigorating, and at times frustrating look at yet more racism and marginalization. Yet, Hardison fights on. We owe it to her to fight along with her.
Starts Sept. 29 at the Sie Film Center.
This wonderful television series is based on the Leaphorn and Chee novel series by Tony Hillerman, created by Graham Roland, and produced by Roland, Zahn McClarnon, George R.R. Martin, and Robert Redford, among others. Set in the early 1970s on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, it follows Lt. Joe Leaphorn (McClarnon) of the Navajo Tribal Police over two seasons as he investigates a bank robbery in season one, and then a series of grisly murders in season two. It is much more than a simple police procedural, however, as it brings us into life on the reservation and tackles the larger political context as well. It is entertaining, thrilling, fascinating, engaging, and not to mention, educational, throughout.
McClarnon is a fantastic and talented actor, known for supporting parts in Western dramas such as Longmire and Reservation Dogs. In Dark Winds he takes the lead, and in my opinion, he will never relinquish it. He has an immense range as an actor, navigating from hard to tender to fiery while never missing a beat. He also deconstructs the stereotypical Native Americans we too often see on screen. It is refreshing, and so too is the supporting cast of Deanna Taushi as his wife, Jessica Matten as a brilliant and fearless deputy, and Kiowa Gordon as Chee, who plays prominently in both seasons.
The allure of the show doesn’t end with the acting and the characters, however. The writing is very good, the cinematography is dazzling while highlighting the beauty of nature (even if some of us Westerners can clearly see that certain locations are not New Mexico!), and the settings and props are wonderfully detailed and time-period accurate. It is quite fun to giggle at how certain things from my own childhood still have a life in period shows.
Finally, the show isn’t afraid to tackle political and social issues that go beyond the superficial and the stereotypical. It is here where you find the depth and contemplative nature of the show. With two seasons in the can, I eagerly look forward to season three—and that is not a usual occurrence for this critic.
Seasons one and two are available now on AMC+.
Spider Woman’s Granddaughters
Edited with an introduction by Paula Gunn Allen.
This month’s literary review comes to us with the help of the wonderful coffee/book/record shop The Good Stuff in Santa Fe, NM. The proprietor recommended the book Spider Woman’s Granddaughters, a collection of “Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women.” It is a wonderful book to sit with as you relax, read a story, and then come back to it for another one. The stories range from traditional tales to biographical writings to contemporary short stories. There is some dark content, some esoteric writing, and some poetic storytelling. All of it is gripping.
Oh yeah, food. People ask me all the time about where to find good Italian food. My favorite is Pomodoro on 6th and Dayton. It is small, family-owned and run, and most importantly, the food is excellent. It is a great taste of New York Italian American food in Denver. Mangia bene!
Vincent Piturro, PhD, is a Professor of Film and Media Studies at MSU Denver. Contact him directly at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter. For more reviews, search The Indie Prof at FrontPorchNE.com.