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film Review: ‘Warrior Women’

Warrior Women is about progress, and this extends to the personal sphere as well as the public. It is a progress that comes with respect for the women that came first--the ability to use knowledge of the past to build something even more powerful.

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Madonna Thunder Hawk and her daughter, Marcella Gilbert.,

In Warrior Women, history is told by the women who made it. Centered on Madonna Thunder Hawk, a Lakota activist with a decades-long career, the film shares discussions she has with her peers and her daughter as they reminisce on community organizing, politics, culture, and family. Their words, supplemented by archival footage, create the story of Indigenous activism by women. 

Madonna Thunder Hawk, born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, has been a powerful force in every modern Native occupation in the U.S.—from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee. While fighting together against the recent government’s actions at Standing Rock, she and Marcella Gilbert, her daughter, reflect on the environment that made them not just mother and daughter but comrades in a multi-generational political struggle.

It is the bonds between these women, which make the documentary remarkable. While the historical treatment of activism, depicting determination and fierce devotion to a cause, is illuminating, those stories are brightened by the personal comradeship between the women. A tribute to sisterhood and matriarchal environments, we watch as women come together to support and protect each other, fighting for themselves and their communities with ingenuity and perseverance. 

Exemplary of this celebration of feminine legacy is the focus on Madonna’s relationship to her daughter Marcella. Madonna, often not expressive emotionally and incredibly focused on her cause, is never condemned by Marcella for coldness and distance, though their connection could be at times less like mother and daughter, and more akin to comrades in arms. Approaching her mother with compassion and admiration, Marcella creates her own family, which builds off of Madonna’s, one that encompasses both emotions and politics. Warrior Women is about progress, and this extends to the personal sphere as well as the public. It is a progress that comes with respect for the women that came first, and the ability to use knowledge of the past to build something even more powerful.

It is undeniable that Warrior Women is a necessary film. When we look at issues today like the Standing Rock protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it is obvious that there is so much more to be done. Learning about the history of Indigenous activism is a benefit to audiences who can better understand the background of North American settler colonialism and its enduring impact. But with the approach of championing the women of these movements, and how their labour and connections have gone beyond the activism in order to sustain cultures amidst struggle, the film offers a celebration of the mothers and daughters who continue to fight, together, for a better future.

Warrior Women

Christina King (Creek/Seminole), Elizabeth Castle
2018 | 65 mins
Country of Production: USA
Country and Culture Featured: USA, Sioux
NY Premiere

Warriror Women was an offical entry at the Hot Docs Festival and the film has just been selected as a  MARGARET MEAD FILMMAKER AWARD CONTENDER.

The film will have its NY premiere at the Margaret Mead Film Festival October 19th at the American Museum of Natural History.