Many of the issues prevalent in Native American and African-American communities stem from centuries of psychological trauma and mistreatment, in addition to the fact that beneficial resources are not always readily available.
In hip-hop, its origins are a direct result of slavery and its long-lasting effects. Historically, it was the type of music that told stories and delivered messages that dealt with a myriad of social issues that were authentic to a large group of underrepresented people in American society. Many of the same experiences and hardships African-Americans have faced in the United States, Native Americans have as well. As a result of this, I think it was a genius idea that film director Ava DuVernay , known for directing the critically-acclaimed films ” Selma” and “ 13th” decided to cast Native American actress Irene Bedard alongside Omari Hardwick as co-presidents of the U.S. in hip-hop artist Jay-Z’s music video “Family Feud.” I loved seeing a Native American woman and an African-American man, people from two of the most oppressed groups of people in the United States, being portrayed as the two most powerful people in the country.
The beginning of “Family Feud” shows the relatives of Hardwick’s character (Mr. President) involved in a family dispute over power. He would later be questioned about it and gives a monologue that details the history of the country and the role his family had in helping form it. The music video spans over 400 years and showcases the fiction-based Founding Mothers and their creation of the Confessional Papers, a revised version of the constitution that leads to the formation of a new United States. The lyrics detail some of Jay-Z’s personal experiences with his family, success and maturity, which are a direct correlation to what Mr. President is dealing with in the music video.
Irene Bedard, arguably best known for her voice role as Pocahontas in the 1995 Disney animated film, acts as Madame President during the year 2444 alongside Hardwick. Bedard’s character has “futuristic Yup’ik and Inupiaq facials tattoos…red and black Tlingit silver bracelets, a Cree necklace” and says the phrase “Mitakuye Oyasin,” which translates to “we are all related.” Seeing women in this light breaks barriers and stereotypes placed on them from a patriarchal society. In an article by Indian Country Today, Bedard mentions that matrilineal societies are prevalent in Native American cultures. She also states that in the music video, she was told that in the future, there is a realization of the importance of a balance between the masculine and feminine, which is the purpose for a co-presidency. That is such an innovative perspective that is stark contrast to patriarchal ones.
Themes of female empowerment, national pride and royalty are prevalent throughout the music video.
One of the founding mothers says, “America is a family and the whole family should be free.” The family represents society and all is greater than one. If selfishness, feuds and injustices exist, that makes our community as formidable as possible. The collective is greater than the individual, which is a traditional mindset in many Native American and African communities. People’s perspectives change when issues arise and are placed at the forefront. If selfishness, feuds and injustices persist, the past issues will continue to come back to haunt us and ultimately create a cycle of behaviors and habits that tear us apart.
Aaron Tommie has worked for the Tribe since 2015. He is a participant in the Tribe’s Advanced Career Development program. He is currently working in the Executive Operations Office.