In Pine Ridge, the Lakota Nation women are doing everything they can to let their situation known, including how the past, history, drugs in their town, and abuse are affecting them and their people. These ladies are rising up, speaking up, and fighting to get life better for themselves and their people.
Written by Deborah Anderson and Charlotte Chatton and directed by the former, this documentary approaches the difficult subjects listed above and covers events such as the residential schools that were used to indoctrinate Lakota and other tribes’ children to make them leave their cultures and hopefully weaken the world they came from to better let the settlers take over their lands and their lives. Here, things are not sugar-coated, but grisly details are also not on display as this is not a show for those wanting the gruesome stuff. Here, the film concentrates on the history, how things done decades ago and not so long ago affected the population and still does. How history can lead a whole people to ruin and how a few tenacious ladies can really fight to save their own. The film shows this by never assuming anything, letting the subjects speak openly both in English and in their own language, and by showing the effects of everything talked about first hand through a non-judgmental camera.
The narration for the film is done by Rita Coolidge who gives the film a voice, one that is calm, collected, and honest. One that tells stories that are hard and introduces elements to the viewer to make them ready for the harder truths. Interviewees such as Vandee Khalsa-SwiftBird, Sun Rose Iron Shell, Carol Iron Rope Herrera, Naomi Last Horse, and many others bring their own views to the film and give it voices that need to be heard. These are the women affected, these are the Women of the White Buffalo.
On the technical side, the film is very well done with no real stylistic flourishes, but this is clearly by design as the subjects in front the camera are much more important than how they are filmed and recorded. The cinematography by Kumiko Hayashi and director of photography Miguel Rama Torres is exactly as it needs to be, unintrusive and letting the subject have all the room they need to speak and be heard.
Women of the White Buffalo is not an easy watch, but it’s a necessary watch. It’s a film that has a lot to teach and a film that really delves deep into its subject, letting the women at the center of everything really speak about what is affecting them and how they are managing to help one another as much as they can. The subjects here turn dark, very dark in fact, more than once and that is needed for the audience to get a full understanding of the situation and how past events and more recent ones have truly affected the women of the Lakota Nation.