`Sedna’ animated film misrepresents Inuit culture, teacher contends

 By Felix Charron-Leclerc

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After the animated children’s movie called Sedna, Empress of the Sea was released on Nov. 7 at the Astro Theatre in Iqaluit, some viewers have been criticizing inaccuracies appearing in the film.

“Based on one of the most compelling indigenous legends of all time, Sedna, Empress of the Sea is the story of a courageous young Inuit girl, who is kidnapped by an evil raven, escapes by kayak only to end up at the bottom of the ocean where she becomes the ruler of the sea. Inspired by a story the director’s grandmother told him as a young boy, the film uses a light-hearted musical as a vessel to introduce children to the concept of residential schools and their impact on Indigenous people,” describes the movie’s website.

Andrea Andersen, who saw the film with her friends and her child, is worried some aspects of the movie might be misleading to youth who are just learning  about their culture.

The concerned Nunavimmiuq mother wrote an email to the movie’s producers, explaining why she thought the was inaccurate.

 

“I am Inuk from Hopedale, Nunatsiavut? Last weekend, myself and a few friends, along with their children, went to watch your movie Sedna, Empress of the Sea here in Iqaluit. Once the movie was finished we were made aware that you welcomed feedback, so after some discussion with my friends, we decided to take up this offer and send along our thoughts. We have a few questions and we are hoping to be provided with answers.

I want to start by saying that we all agreed that the animation was really good. There was a lot of action which kept ours and the children’s attention. The songs were a nice addition and kept the movie fun and entertaining.

This is where our questions/concerns begin.

 

Were there any consultations with more Inuit across Inuit Nunangat? Since the story is known by all Inuit then it should have been reviewed by Inuit from each region, if it hadn’t already been done. And were there any Inuit cast in this film? We noticed many words in Inuktitut not spoken correctly (tuktu, maktaaq, angakkuq, qamutiik, qajaq) and if there was consultation with Inuit then this would have been corrected.

Sedna is not an Inuktitut word, it is a First Nations word. They too have their version of Sedna, but since this movie was focused on the Inuit legend then the correct word would have been best to use is Nuliajuk. Was this considered in your draft purposes?

 

Where else was this movie shown? We watched it here in Iqaluit but we are curious as to where else it played or will play.

Where/how can it be viewed?

The story line was not accurate. Maybe it was meant to have a spin on the legend, but this may confuse children. This may be a child’s first introduction to the story and children may believe this to be the original legend. As an example, one of the children, after watching the film, continued to talk about Sedna’s hands being cold and being frozen off from the cold, and how the tulugaq (raven) would interact with the characters. They also tried to describe themselves as Eskimo and tried to “Inuk kiss” on the nose, which is a stereotypical way that society portrays they way Inuit kiss, but it is inaccurate.

 

Maktaaq misrepresented too

We think that some things were not represented accurately, one being the maktaaq. Why was it so gross? Maktaaq is a delicacy here and it doesn’t look grey and goopy. It is also not eaten from a bowl with a spoon. Maybe that was the little boy’s perception of it as he hadn’t seen/had it before, but young children watching this were confused. My friend’s child said, “Maktaaq doesn’t look like that, and maktaaq is yummy.” They also stated during the movie, “I don’t know what maktaaq (stated in the way she had heard it said) is, but I know what maktaaq is,” and the other viewers in the theater laughed as they knew what she was referring to, but the pronunciation was not correct for whale blubber.

Who was Kay the trans lady supposed to represent? This confused me very much and was a big concern. I got the impression that she was supposed to be a fake, as she had first said she was “Pocahantas” (which, saying that in itself was inappropriate), and then she had to ask someone who she was. The tattoos on her face also told me she was a fake, because the circle lines did not represent Inuit tattoos. But having a trans person represent a fake?

That’s being insensitive to the trans community. Also, how did she get in the ocean? She had legs, not a fin. Maybe she was like a fairy god mother figure?

Sedna having tattoos at age six is incorrect. Girls would have their first facial tattoos at the age of maturity, which would come with their first period. Age six is too young to have facial tattoos. Around age 12 would have been the time to receive the kakiniit (Inuit facial tattoos). It is also important to note that kakiniit are given based on the region where they are from, with the ones she received it does not represent any specific Inuit community. They were curved when they should have a more pointed shape.

I think the nudity was unnecessary. I get that it was meant to be funny but it was  unnecessary.

The focus should have been kept to one topic. It seems as though a lot of topics were put into this movie, including aspects of traditions from various Indigenous cultures, and the combining of Sedna with residential schools. I was under the impression by the title of the movie that this would solely be about Sedna and was taken aback when I saw the inclusion of residential school topics. I think that this is a really heavy topic that shouldn’t have been combined with Sedna. Residential schools should be taught to children exactly how it happened, not in a lighthearted way. I think the whole topic of residential schooling also got lost throughout the movie?it was seen at the beginning and the end, but not mentioned during the movie’s entirety.

 

Not recommended

Why were the children speaking Mohawk at the end when the entire movie was based on Inuit legend? Yes, children who went to the residential schools spoke Mohawk but maybe they should have been Inuit children speaking Inuktitut? This confused the children watching who speak Inuktitut as they didn’t understand what was being said during those times.

At the beginning of the film, you had said that nothing was put in the movie by mistake and everything represented something. What was everything supposed to represent I.e. the nanuq, Kay, tulugaq.

Additional things we are curious about: tea pot iglu, ice shaped like a puzzle, “rubbing noses” was a bit stereotypical.

Inaccuracies: First Nation designs on a qajaq, Sedna wasn’t sewing kamiik (it looked more mukluk style), beluga had a fin, the kamiik patterns on the father were more First Nations than Inuit.

I am a longtime teacher and work with young children. I would not recommend any more children to watch this version and I will not be watching it again either. Although, I would like my adult friends (Inuit and non-Inuit alike) to see this film so that we can all have a discussion because as it is now, it has left us with way too many questions and concerns.

Lastly, as a very important point, we would like to say that the film should have come with a trigger warning. Prior to watching the film, we were under the impression that the film was entirely a story about Sedna. I brought a friend’s child to this film. But only when the lights went down and the movie began to play did we realize that it was a movie with aspects of the residential schooling system. Had I realized this I would have spoken to my friend about bringing her child; it would have been best if she was there, or if I hadn’t brought her at all. We were caught off-guard and given the wrong impression based on the title and the movie poster.

Residential schooling should not be sugar-coated.

These questions have been on our mind? and we just wanted to bring them to light. Word is getting out now and other people have questions as well. We just wanted to share our thoughts; please take our concerns into consideration. Thank you for taking the time to read this over and we look forward to your response to our questions and concerns.”

  Felix Charron-Leclerc is a  Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with NUNAVUT NEWS. The LIJ program is federally funded.

 

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