Published May 4, 2022

New Mexico filmmaker picked for program aiming to boost Native representation in Hollywood

By Emma Gibson

The finalists for the first IllumiNative Producers Program cohort: Left to right, top row: Taylor Hensel (Cherokee Nation), Kekama Amona (Kanaka Maoli), Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets'aii Gwich'in), Mato Standing Soldier (Oglala Lakota). Bottom row: Ivan MacDonald (Blackfeet), Ashley Browning (Pueblos of Pojoaque and Santa Clara), Coyote Park (Yurok) and Blake Pickens (Chickasaw). | IllumiNative

Netflix and the Indigenous social justice group IllumiNative recently announced their first cohort in a training program for Native film and TV producers.

The year-long IllumiNative Producers Program, which officially launched in late April, provides fellows with training, mentorship and a $25,000 grant to support their work. It's part of Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity, an effort to create more behind-the-scenes opportunities for underrepresented communities in TV and film.

Among the eight early- and mid-career producers selected is Ashley Browning, from the pueblos of Pojoaque and Santa Clara in New Mexico. She wants to challenge Indigenous stereotypes and push Native stories, like the acclaimed comedy series Reservation Dogs does.

“These kids that are watching this now, actually can go out and have inspiration to be like, ‘There’s a Native on screen. I want to do that, too,'” Browning said.

IllumiNative founder and executive director Crystal Echo Hawk says the fellowships are meant to help challenge Hollywood’s erasure of Native peoples.

"We launched this program to combat the historic lack of opportunity and investment in Native storytellers and to support the next generation of Indigenous producers," she said in a statement.

Browning’s entry is a short film called "Lovers Cycle" written by Keany Jone (Diné). It’s about a Diné man who reluctantly returns home after a breakup and discovers a different type of love. Browning hopes it could one day become a TV series.

The other fellows represent tribes ranging from the Oglala Lakota to the Blackfeet. The cohort was selected from nearly 400 applicants.

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