Kind Hearted Woman Breaking Down Ethnicity, Family Dynamic

Kathleen Morris

Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Patrick Kenney.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Kenney.

A viewing of the David Sutherland film “Kind Hearted Woman” was recently held at the Fuller Arts Center on campus this past week. Sutherland is known for his in depth approach when filming, as seen in his previous works such as “The Farmer’s Wife” and “Country Boys.” Sutherland used this method for telling the story of Robin Charboneau, an Oglala Sioux woman living in North Dakota’s Spirit Lake Reservation.

This process of his is compared to that of an ethnographer by The Baltimore Sun, which added that “[Sutherland] steeps himself in the minute details, emotions and struggles of his subjects’ lives, trying to see the world through their eyes.”

As a divorced single mother of two who struggles with being a victim of sexual abuse and with being a reformed alcoholic, Charboneau’s tumultuous three year journey onto the path of the “red road” was well documented in this five hour long two part film. The figurative red road as described in the movie is a sacred road, one on which you’re to live your life straight and sober. This road, and Charboneau’s struggle to stay on it, is a story we can all relate to.

It’s easy to find yourself in Charboneau, and in her struggles you can clearly see your own. Was this Sutherland’s intention at the onset of this project? Not entirely. He says that he had wanted to put a face to “interpersonal violence.”

He said he “wanted to highlight the prevalence of abuse”, particularly because he hadn’t gotten to highlight that issue in his last two films. But in seeking to do that, Sutherland also produced, as put by the PBS online website, a story of “heartbreak, discovery” and that humans will rise above the cards they’re dealt. Along with all of that many other things are shown, such as the frustration that comes with trying to get justice from a judicial system that offers anything but.

Following the showing of the film, there was a question and answer segment with David Sutherland himself, along with Dr. Paul Tee-foe, the Assistant Professor of English here at Springfield College. Tee-foe’s area of specialty is early American literature and his research examines the ways that Native Americans are portrayed in early US fiction and drama.

The third panelist was Joyce White Deer-Vincent, who has worked at UMass Amherst for 22 years. Since 2010 she’s worked as the Associate Director of Cultural Enrichment and Student Success, where she works closely with the staff of the four cultural centers on campus. She also is an advocate for human rights, indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, civil rights, Americans with disabilities rights, healthcare equity, and gender self-determination rights.

Sutherland says that he hopes that in seeing this film people would care about the family. He wanted to put a face to Native Americans in general, and have viewers root for Charboneau and her children, getting close to them like a neighbor. Sutherland also said that he would hope that viewers of the film would “look at the issue of the piece and reach whatever conclusion they choose”.

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