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Chumash protest at “Rites” movie premiere in Isla Vista

Courtesy of Richard Halsey

Courtesy of Richard Halsey

Nathan ( Ryan Donowho) console Dani (Kate Maberly) in the film that sparked protest from Chumash

Justine Young, Staff Writer

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Racist. Exploitative. Cultural prostitution.

These are accusations Chumash protesters hurled at Peter Iliff’s controversial new film “Rites of Passage,” which premiered last night at the Isla Vista Theatre.

“We’re tired of culture vultures coming, swooping down and exploiting our culture,” said Diego Cordero, who was handing out the flyers with “CULTURAL PROSTITUTION” emblazoned in acid-green lettering.

The flyers requested that Iliff  “destroy the film and all copies” and meet with the delegation of Chumash elders to issue an apology.

After the film, director Peter Iliff stood on the stage before the screen and said the film “came from the heart” and that no spite toward the Chumash culture was intentional. Before his Q-and-A was done, the event had turned into a shouting match. Several of the more vocal Chumash protesters were forced to leave the theatre by security workers.

In the film, Delgado (played by Christian Slater) is a crystal meth addict and cook who lives in a greenhouse. He often repeats the line, “I’m going to kill that Chumash b—-” while wielding a shotgun. The film also features Benny (Wes Bentley) frequently drinking Jimson weed tea, a dangerous hallucinogenic used in Chumash ceremonial rituals. Much of the movie was filmed at Santa Barbara City College.

At the post-film session, a Chumash woman began shouting before  actress Angelic Zambrana (Precious) could answer a question on whether she felt her character was offensive.

“It was offensive!” the woman shouted at Iliff and cast members.

Most of the audience actually seemed annoyed at the disruption. A few shouted back,  “It’s just a movie!” or “You’ve shared your opinion, now shut up!” while several other patrons left.

“I thought it was awesome,” shouted a UCSB student in the audience. Loud applause followed his comment.

“With my character, in no way did I think of offending any Native Americans,” interjected Zambrana. “I was thinking of this small, loud-mouthed girl. … I didn’t really think to offend any one community, and I’m sorry you felt that way.”

The Chumash audience members also challenged Iliff’s use of Jimson weed, a sacred plant, and the Chumash ceremony featured in the film.

“Why do you have our ceremony up there?” a Chumash audience member asked. “Do you know what we do at our ceremonies? We don’t have cameras. We don’t film it.”

Iliff said the movie was just an interpretation of the ritual and added, “It’s a movie.”

Bentley’s character Benny was used as an example of the “psychotic” interpretation, which only further angered the Chumash.

“This is not your culture,” said one of the Chumash activists.

Following this outcry, several protesters were promptly ushered from the theater.

“We Chumash people have the right to protect our culture,” said Marcus Lopez Sr., co-chair of the Barbareno Chumash Council, said shortly after. “The film is disgraceful to Chumash people and territory. This film should never have been produced much less shown.”

According to article 11 of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, “Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect, and develop the past, present, and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artifacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.”

Actor Mylo IronBear(Cowboys & Aliens), a Native American spirit warrior of the Spirit Lake Tribe who appears as a Chumash in the film, attempted to defend it.

“I am standing behind this film because it’s a film,” IronBear said, adding that Iliff was entitled d to his artistic interpretation.

Chumash in the audience countered that IronBear  was “disrespectful” to their culture and that he “sold out for a buck.”

“You don’t mess with tradition; you don’t do that,” said a Chumash citizen as he was escorted from the theater.

After someone dialed 911, one Native American couple stormed out of the theater and yelled, “Chumash Nation, b—–! Woo wooo wooo!”

Another told a reporter,  “I hang my head in shame for how the previous Chumash citizens acted. This was a movie interpretation, and I support it.”

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Chumash protest at “Rites” movie premiere in Isla Vista