Erica Tremblay’s “Fancy Dance” aligns its warm heart with the many indigenous women who have been missing and murdered without finding justice and the Indigenous women who must navigate the world where the system casts them as persona non grata.
Written by Tremblay and Miciana Alise, this engrossing film is set on the Seneca Cayuga Reservation in northeast Oklahoma.
It is here we find Jax (a tremendously good Lily Gladstone). Jax’s sister has been missing and the authorities don’t seem to care. Until the mystery is solved, Roki (the equally excellent Isabel Deroy-Olson) is living with her aunt.
Roki wants to go to the yearly powwow, holding out hope that her mother will turn up, as she has never missed one.
After a white female Child Care worker does a surprise inspection to check in on Roki’s well-being, the court decides she must live with her grandparents (Shea Whigham and Audrey Wasilewski), as Jax has a criminal record for drug dealing. Roki barely knows them and the two don’t seem very comfortable to have their granddaughter become a larger part of their lives. For them, it would be just fine to make a few emotionless visits every now and again.
Having the white woman and the courts decide the fate of a native American child connects to the long and ugly history of white America splitting up native American families and forcing the children to live under a White roof.
Realizing how bad things could get, Jax takes Roki in the middle of the night and the two embark on a trip to the powwow, both desperately wanting to find the mystery of their missing mother/sister.
Gladstone inhabits Jax with a quiet power as the character moves through a cruel America that cares not for the issues of its Indigenous populations. The screenplay makes her a representative of so many Native American women who struggle for identity and respect, and Gladstone wears their pain with every breath. The actress gives an incredibly moving performance and one I shall not soon forget.
“Fancy Dance” is a film of many layers, the most affecting being the unbreakable familial bonds between these women, even the ones who are no longer here.
Director Tremblay has made a film of gravitas and devastating truths. Jax and Roki’s journey is dangerous yet becomes intimate and revealing.
In the Cayuga language, “Aunt” translates to “Little Mother.” For many it becomes “Second Mother,”due to the disappearances and children being forced to live with other family members while the local authorities do nothing to solve anything Native American related.
Supported by the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab, this is a film crafted with intimacy, care, and respect; one that honors all indigenous women, their struggles.
“Fancy Dance” is a moving drama that bleeds with emotion.
Lily Gladstone, Isabel Deroy-Olson, and Shea Wigham share moments of purity in their performances that will tug at your heart.
Erica Tremblay’s “Fancy Dance” will move your soul.