Last week, a group of Native actors walked off the set of the Adam Sandler comedy The Ridiculous Six to protest the film’s content. One of the key dissenters was Bruce Klinekole, Apache, who had been hired as the film’s Native American cultural consultant. Klinekole, whose last name translates as “Catch the Horse,” objected to the Netflix production’s repeated gross misrepresentations of Apache culture, dangerous bow-and-arrow scenes involving inexperienced actors, and being denied the chance to even speak to Adam Sandler.
After his requests for changes were ignored, 65 year old Klinekole spoke with other Native Elder friends, including David Hill (an actor who ended up joining the walk-off), about what to do. When Klinekole saw four eagles circling above the set, he knew it was a sign to walk off the set.
“I wasn’t allowed to talk to a producer and they wouldn’t allow me to talk to anybody,” Klinekole told ICTMN. “They wouldn’t let me do anything. Nothing.”
“I said, ‘Okay, that’s all, I’m going,” he continued. “I felt bad for my fellow people who were there but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t say anything on behalf of my Native people or on behalf of my Apache people who were depicted so badly.”
Shortly before deciding to leave, and after speaking to his friends and pondering for some time, Klinekole appealed to a production assistant (PA) in a last ditch effort to make things work.
“I was waiting, and spoke to a PA named Molly and asked if I could speak with Adam Sandler,” Klinekole recalled. “She was the one who directed us where to stand, what to do, how to hold our spears and more. I said, ‘Molly, can I talk to Adam?’ She said, ‘Bruce, you know, you know, you are not supposed to talk to Adam.’ I said, ‘I know, but I need to talk to him about something. This was really bothering me it was really killing me, my heart was hurting I was bewildered and could not believe what was going on.’ She said, ‘No, Bruce.’ I thought maybe she would say something like she could help or she might reassure me, but she said ‘No, no you cannot do that.’ That is when I just flew the coop. I said no more, I just can’t do this anymore.”
“What really got me were those eagles,” Klinekole told ICTMN. “They got me so bad—I could not believe four eagles, [representing] the four directions—four colors, everything in our tradition is four. It was so strong like the Creator was looking after us Natives and what we were going through. I couldn’t stand it, I couldn’t stand it.”
Though Klinekole has worked professionally on six previous films, he admits he went into the first day of filming on location in New Mexico not really knowing what to expect. When he walked on to the set on day one, he was shocked to see nothing but Native stereotypes.
“I never saw the script at all when I first went and then I saw the wardrobe of the actors,” Klinekole told ICTMN. “The first day, I was the only one dressed Apache. My agent told me these would be Apache scenes.”
“Males were dressed in buckskin, which is not Apache at all. They were fixing up their hair into braids and Apache do not wear their hair in braids—It is straight and we wear our hair in a hat or with a headband. Some of the men were wearing feathers and Apaches do not wear feathers at all.”
“The ladies were also in buckskin and were wearing boots that looked like they were purchased from the curio shops called ‘The Running Indian.’ They were wearing chokers. I was kind of overwhelmed, and I said, ‘What is going on here?'”
Though Klinekole expressed his discomfort, no changes were made. When he returned to the set for his second day, he was told his services as a cultural consultant would no longer be needed—but he was still asked to assist and instruct the actors. He was also asked to act and speak in the film.
As of the time of this interview, he has not yet been paid for his services of acting or consulting.
Kleinkole had been told by an agent that he’d be paid a consulting fee; it was a key reason he took the job. “She said they would pay me,” he told ICTMN. “I am a traditional person I did not ask how much,” he told ICTMN. “I just did it. She said they would be paying me a little bit more than the actors were getting.”
Klinekole also said there was a complete disregard for safety. During the filming of some scenes, extras were told to aim arrows with razor-sharp steel tips arrows at actor Danny Trejo and his band of vaqueros.
Klinekole, a Senior Olympics State Champion in the Bare Bow event, said that the actors who were pinching the arrows could have accidentally let go of the arrows and injured or killed an actor.
“I examined them and discovered one of the extras had a 60 pound hunting bow, and his arrow was a steel razor blade tip,” Klinekole said. “He was pointing it at Danny and his vaqueros—if he would have slipped, he could have hurt someone or shot them dead with that arrow. Nobody was there to examine that stuff. The guy also told me he was shaking because he had to hold it ‘for about five minutes’—how can you hold a bow for five minutes? It was a 60 pound bow!”
“I have been in six movies—normally with every set those arrows and everything else is rubber, even the bows,” Klinekole continued. “The arrows and arrowheads are fake. The knives and guns are fake—that is the way it is supposed to be. That same day the director [Frank Corachi] called me over, he said ‘Hey Bruce, before Danny and his Vaqueros come over we want you to scream something in Apache to warn the villagers.’ I said ‘Are you going to pay me for this?’ He said, ‘No, no—just yell something, can you yell?'”
The night before Klinekole decided to leave, he was asked to attend a meeting with the producers and crew to discuss a wedding scene with a tipi. The following day he arrived on set and came upon the tipi.
Klinekole, who constructs tipis for traditional weddings, was horrified. “They had a big meeting and asked me about the wedding scene that was going to be with Adam Sandler and another actress,” Klinekole told ICTMN. “I told them about a tipi, I told them how it should look and the things that would be on it. They selected me to play the part of the medicine man. I told them okay, no problem. I told them I would need a medicine woman, and I really approached it traditionally. The same way we would do it down here in Mescalero. The next day, which was Wednesday, I decided to walk around. Then I saw the tipi and my heart fell apart and I said, ‘My God, what are they doing?'”
“I know the significance of a tipi, what goes on in a tipi—and they just disgraced that tipi,” Klinekole explained. “I told them to have the front door facing east; I also said it would have to be a very wide door with the smoke flaps down, and that it would need to be big enough so that people could stand inside of it. I told them the medicine man would be right there. When I saw the tipi, they not only had a front door, but they also had a back door. I said, ‘What? What is this back door stuff?’ They also had flowers and vines and stuff all over the tipi and they had fake eagle feathers on each one of the poles. I said, ‘What is going on here?'”
“I talked to the guy who was designing this, and asked ‘Who told you to do this?'” Klinekole said. “He said he had been to sweats, and this is not how a tipi should look, and I said ‘You’re right.’ He said, ‘I’m just going by what they told me to do.’ I told him, ‘this is a total disgrace.'”
Overall, Klinekole expressed his thoughts on the tipi, respect for native women and why other native actors might have stayed on the set.
“In the Mescalero tradition, we honor young girls 12 to 13 who are coming-of-age, and they dance in the tipis for four nights,” Klinekole explained to ICTMN. “We honor them because she is going to bring life to the world she will be the one who will be carrying human life. That’s why the tipi represents so much for us.”
Klinekole said he found some of the names of the characters, such as Beaver Breath and Never Wears Bra, unacceptable: “We would never ever call women by those names. It was a total disgrace.”
Still, a lot of Native actors stayed on set, which Klinekole chalked up to youth and a lack of perspective. “I’m 65 and I know my culture very well—but a lot of these actors there were young adults and do not know the cultural ways of the Apache or any other Native American who was out there like the Mohawk,” he said. “They don’t really know and I think that’s why they stayed there. I think they were there for the money, and they were naïve and they were there because they are innocent. They are excited they were getting into a movie. I am not going to hold that against them.”
Klinekole added that he would not be doing further interviews about The Ridiculous Six. “I will not talk to anyone else,” he told ICTMN. “If anyone else calls me, I will reject it. One time is enough.”