I wrote about the first two seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and then forgot to write about the third one
Maybe I’m too busy. Maybe it was because I watched basically the entire season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in the middle of grading final exams and cannot be responsible for anything I did during that time as my brain is still not exactly back to full capacity. Or maybe it was because Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt finally did what I suppose it wanted to do, it kind of made me go “wait, Jacqueline is Native? There’s a sort of Native (character) on a show?”
Not for nothing but if Titus Andromedon wasn’t a consistent part of this show then really the entire season would have boiled down to “huh? Does Kimmy ever actually row in a competition? Is she any good? Does she win? Did I miss that episode?”
I was waiting with bated breath for any mention of taking down the Washington Re*skins and when the episode finally came where Jacqueline was headed to the owners meeting for her big showdown I wanted to root for her. Sure, she’s a white actress playing a Native character who passes for white and sometimes pretends she is white and sometimes tries to reconnect to her Nativeness only to be wholly rejected by her parents, but I’m willing to go with it. Just like I’m willing to go with Kimmy being some kind of rowing wunderkind who never actually ROWS in anything. I’m willing to go with Kimmy getting into Columbia and not actually, oh I don’t know, getting a tutor, or taking advantage of her sheer luck when there are so many other people who, you know, didn’t get into Columbia or have no chance of getting into Columbia (on a freaking scholarship) so why not put in some extra hours?
I wrote only two sentences in my rigorous note taking that I often do when I’m trying to watch these shows and offer some kind of response:
That’s it. That’s all I wrote for the few episodes where Jacqueline was finally going to take down the Washington Racial Slur Team. And then just as soon as this storyline about Jacquelyn reclaiming her Lakota roots started it was over. She solved it. With capitalism. And something else happened later with her new boyfriend/kind of husband where he become beautiful and then he went back to his family to run the evil empire which is fine because now they changed the name.
Look, Jacqueline character is “interesting” in so much as she represents a Native person who must deal with complex ideas of identity and representation. When the writers, or the show runners made a decision to go all in with Jacqueline as a Sioux person, they inherited this conversation whether they knew about it or not.
As Native people we express, understand and debate our identities because of legacies of colonialism (like blood quantum or boarding schools); because we are still defending and reclaiming our sovereignties and self-determination and because there isn’t a universal answer to how a Native character would feel, act, look or fit into a “quirky” sitcom like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Titus’s blackness is not the only defining thing about his character but it is something present (ever present). Kimmy, her whiteness is as much a part of her character as her naivete. But Jacqueline occupies this incredibly complex and layered space as a Native character who presents as an upper east side white woman who feels Lakota who craves her Nativeness in a way, but also does not make any real connection to it unless you count watching a football game with her parents wearing Washington (New Names) gear. There has to be something more for her character than “I solved this decades long problem that Native people have been fighting for and have faced threats and derogatory slurs because… I could. What were you all doing for so long protesting outside the building when you just should have found your way in?”
I’m not looking to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to be the best little sitcom with a non-Native actress playing a Native person who passes as a white person who wants to connect with her Nativeness. I’m just saying couldn’t we push it? What if we went from the “oh yeah, Jacqueline’s Native” to “F-yeah, Jacqueline is Native!”
Master of None (another Netflix series) did this fantastic episode this season which (spoiler alert if you haven’t binged watched it yet, WHY NOT? GO TO THERE. Now. I’ll wait.) followed for an entire episode characters that were not part of the main cast. One right after the other the audience was able to see into the lives of other New Yorkers. It was fantastically done, thoughtful, and basically solidified for me that you can do anything now if you’re on Netflix so you have no excuse.
Here is my proposal for you Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt writers:
Next season give us an episode. Just one. In my mind, Jacquelyn realizes that her kid has never met his grandparents and that he knows NOTHING about his Lakota heritage. She insists on taking him back to her family home where she meets up with her cousin Irene (played by Irene Bedard of course) who is the Tribal Attorney and basically the most badass awesome Native lady you’ve ever met. Jacqueline and her have always had a bit of a rivalry with each other and now Irene is like the perfect Native in Jacqueline’s mind. Any “Native” thing Jacquelyn tries to do, Irene does it better (and she has tons of inside jokes with Jacqueline's parents). At some point Jacqueline leaves in a huff convinced that she can go out and find the herb that her Mom was talking about needing. She gets lost. Eats some crazy berries. Trips out and finally gets found by Irene where they both fall in the river and get all cold. Irene can’t start the fire and Jacqueline is finally able to do it on her own. They have to hug it out into the cold night until the next day when they are found all snuggled up and sleeping. Turns out they were only like just around the corner from the hotel. Later Jacqueline dad asks Irene “why didn’t you just use the lighter you always carry in your boot?” And Irene just winks at him. *End Episode*
And now back to House of Cards, which BTW my review so far is: I never thought I'd say this but I kinda miss those corrupt Native American casino owners. At least they were making jokes about Andrew Jackson.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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