The Scoop: Red Nation Celebration Institute celebrates Native American and Indigenous voices in television and film in many ways, including through awards, festivals, and student outreach. The nonprofit organization was founded by Joanelle Romero in 1995 and is committed to creating a community of Native and Indigenous creatives working together to share stories that remember the past, explore the present, and offer visions of the future. Joanelle talked to us about the achievements of Indigenous women in film, #WhyWeWearRed, and how you can get involved with enjoying and celebrating Native film and television.

Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy” by Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill offers this quote:

“The non-Indigenous desire to ‘play Indian’ may seem like a passing trend, but it is actually a fundamental condition of life within settler colonialism, as settlers continuously seek to capitalize on what they understand as their country’s own ‘native’ resources, which include Indigenous cultures and peoples themselves.”

This quote gives us just a bit of the context needed to understand the importance of amplifying the self-determined stories of Native peoples. For too long, the film and television industry has erased and distorted the stories and images of Indigenous populations through racist portrayals, casting white actors for Native roles, and centering white characters in films that supposedly focus on Indigenous groups.

Red Nation Celebration Institute is a nonprofit organization that is putting “Natives in Charge of Their Narrative.” The organization is the longest-running, successful Native women-led, Indigenous media arts and cultural enterprise in the history of the entertainment industry. 

RNCI’s mission is to replace racist and erasive American Indian stereotypes with recognition, new vision, arts, culture, and economic prosperity by centering American Indian and Indigenous filmmakers and creators at the forefront of the industry.

Joanelle Romero is the Founder, President, and CEO of RNCI. She talked to us about the organization, the upcoming film festival celebrating Indigenous women in film and television, and the continued importance of recognizing and amplifying self-determined Native stories.

Joanelle told us about #WhyWeWearRed and how RNCI is taking action to remember and bring accountability for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Relatives.

“It’s seriously time that the industry invests in the talent we have in Indian Country,” Joanelle said. “Invest in our filmmakers. Invest in our actors. Red Nation Celebration Institute runs the largest Native film festival in the world, and we always have an incredible amount of films every year. It’s profound and gorgeous. Our Institute has been amplifying our own voices for 29 years, and we are just now seeing Native stories begin to breach the mainstream.”

Legacy of Red Nation Celebration Institute

RNCI serves its mission through international film festivals, a television network, cultural grants, award ceremonies, worldwide hiring directories, and student outreach. “This is our 29th year,” Joanelle said. “We’re the longest-running Native women-led indigenous media arts and cultural nonprofit enterprise in the history of the industry.”

RNCI is based in Los Angeles but serves hundreds of Native nations across the United States and beyond. “We serve over 575 Native nations,” Joanelle said. “Our mission has always been to break the barriers of racism by creating systemic change through film and television, and in all media.”

To combat systemic erasure, RNCI acts as a landing place and jumping-off spot for Indigenous creatives. The organization holds a network of casting directors, actors, producers, and filmmakers within the industry who can connect to work on projects. 

joanelle romero, founder of red nation celebration institute
Joanelle talked to us about the importance of representation and Native people telling their own stories.

“Red Nation Celebration Institute wants to eliminate the American Indian stereotypes that so many of us have grown up with,” Joanelle said. “Our vision for the future of cinema and the arts is one in which Native Indigenous perspectives are authentically pictured, recognized, and valued in a way that promotes strong, authentic Native identities, economic outcomes, equality, and wellness for our Indigenous communities.”

If you’ve been paying attention to the Oscars buzz this year, you’ve probably heard of “Killers of The Flower Moon,” the Martin Scorsese-directed epic western starring Lily Gladstone. Joanelle told us she’s thrilled about Lily Gladstone’s nomination and thinks it was an important film to be made. But the film exposes a quality of the industry that RNCI is directly pushing against.

“It’s a perfect example of the disconnect,” she said. “We really need to tell our own stories, from us. This is a whole new market for the industry regarding Native talent and stories, and it’s time the industry taps in. We’ve shown we’re worth investing in, and people want to hear our stories through film and television.” 

Decolonizing the Film Industry by Amplifying Native Women’s Voices

This March, RNCI is celebrating the achievements of Native and Indigenous women in television and film with its 15th Native Women in Film Festival. The eight-day festival takes place the week leading up to the Academy Awards and features films directed by women from a Native perspective. 

Native Women in Film & Television in All Media (NWIFTV) advocates for Native and Indigenous women’s rights in all media platforms by creating equal opportunities for Native and Indigenous actors and filmmakers, encouraging empowering and authentic portrayals of Indigenous women, and expanding campaigns and outreach to serve Native and Indigenous women better.

“We have 45 films directed by women,” Joanelle said. “This is the seventh year in a row we have surpassed Toronto, Cannes, Sundance, Tribeca, and the Oscars concerning women directors. We have so many great creators and films.”

Native Women in Film and Television In All Media
Native Women in Film & Television in All Media is showing 45 films made by Indigenous women.

The Native Women in Film and Television Festival is taking place from March 1-8, and Joanelle encouraged people to get involved however they can. If you’re in Los Angeles, the festival could be a great place to enjoy date night with an incredible film. The festival will also be livestreaming throughout the week, so folks anywhere can tune in for an at-home movie night.

This year, the NWIFTV Festival will have in-person events for filmmakers, actors, and movie lovers alike, along with virtual panels exploring topics like “Native Women Write Character Development” and “Native Indigenous Fashion #NativeGlam.” 

The festival will be screening Morrisa Maltz’s film starring Lily Gladstone, called “The Unknown Country,” “Bones of Crows” by Marie Clements, and Joanelle’s own “American Holocaust: When It’s All Over I’ll Still Be Indian”– plus 42 more films.

“My first lead role was in 1977 in a film called ‘The Girl Called Hatter Fox’,” Joanelle said. “It was the first time a Native actress carried the leading role. It took Hollywood 42 years to get from ‘The Girl Called Hatter Fox’ to a streaming series with a Native actress in the lead contemporary story, called ‘Chambers’ with Sivan Alyra Rose.”

It’s taken decades for the industry to tap into the talent that’s been before them all this time, and Joanelle said she is excited that Indigenous filmmakers, actors, and the Red Nation Celebration Institute’s hard and persistent work is finally coming to fruition.

“It’s been a long haul,” she said. “Our institute has been doing this for 29 years, working to amplify our voices, and it’s great to see improvements. But we’re still not being completely seen and heard. There’s a lot of room to grow within our industry regarding our Native women, filmmakers, actors, and crew.”


Part of the mission of the Red Nation Celebration Institute and Native Women in Film & Television in All Media is to hold space and demand accountability for the thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives who are missed by their loved ones every day, and systemically forgotten or neglected by the justice system. 

“We launched a campaign in 2018 called Why We Wear Red,” Joanelle said. “It’s a call to action and an immediate coalition initiative that brings global awareness to the lack of inclusion of Native women in film and television.”

Joanelle continued, “And that’s directly tied to the epidemic of Murdered and Missing Native and Indigenous Women and Girls. We’re focused on the representation and visibility side because if we’re not seeing in the media, then we don’t matter. No one is held accountable for our missing and murdered women.”

#WhyWeWearRed advocates for and remembers MMIW while supporting blossoming Native creatives.

#WhyWeWearRed is a media coalition initiative and a call to action that brings global awareness to the lack of inclusion of Native Women in the entertainment industry, which is directly linked to the epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Relatives. 

The movement works to ensure that Native women and girls can see themselves in media in an empowering and self-actualized way, all while supporting the movement that’s seeking justice for Native women and girls who were taken by violence.

“The reason we created the call to action for Why We Wear Red is to ensure we continue to be seen and heard,” Joanelle said. “The main thing is this direct link between MMIW and the lack of Native women in film. When we are not seen and heard, the conversation doesn’t exist, and the conversation must continue to exist.”

Red Nation Celebration Institute gives all people the opportunity to engage with, learn something from, and ultimately enjoy Native and Indigenous art.

“The amount of talent we have in Indian Country just blows me away every year,” Joanelle said. “I hope everyone comes out and experiences everything that Native film and television and cinema has to offer.”