Just who is an American Indian?
For hundreds of years, this riddle of identity has vexed the federal government and the tribes alike, writes Marcos Barbery, an investigative reporter and documentary filmmaker. He and his co-director, Samuel Z. Russell, worked for four years to craft a concise 64-minute movie to explore it.
“By Blood,” sponsored by the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards at the 2015 Cleveland International Film Festival, takes up a contentious case moving through the federal courts now: Descendants of slaves once owned by the Cherokee and Seminole nations, made members of the tribe by treaty at the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War, are fighting to continue to be counted as Indians. And leaders of the tribes are opposing them, having disenfranchised some 30,000 people.
“The Freedmen descendants are waiting for a decision right now,” Barbery said in a telephone interview. “The issue is ongoing—we were filming in February and we have a new cut. There were protests three weeks ago in Oklahoma City.”
The consequences have economic, racial, and cultural ramifications. If the African Americans lose, the matter could well go before the U.S. Supreme Court, Barbery said. “This is a conflict between tribal sovereignty and the 13th Amendment (which abolished slavery). These are two traditionally oppressed communities battling it out.”
Asked about the tone of “By Blood,” Barbery said, “It’s anything but a downer. It’s a journey through this world—Indian County—populated by an enormous number of African Americans. It has all kinds of twists and turns and there are moments of humor.”
Both directors, both 34, will be present to answer questions at the Cleveland screenings: 9 p.m. Thursday, March 26 and 12:10 p.m. Friday, March 27. Tickets are $13 for film festival members, seniors and students; $15 for others.
Moviegoers can receive a $2 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.