To celebrate last month’s premiere of the APTN original series, Mohawk Girls, the cast, crew, and producers hosted a screening party at the 99 Resto Bar in Kahnawake. Upwards of a 100 people, including family members and close friends of those affiliated with the show, came together to watch the airing of the first two episodes of a series some are calling Sex and the City of Kahnawake.
As Mohawk Girls illustrates, Kahnawake is a small, closely-knit community where news travels fast. It’s clear that this television show represents more than an achievement for the creators and actors. For the most part, the Mohawk of Kahnawake – many of whom worked on set as extras, cooks and location service providers – see the show as a positive source of economic growth and prosperity for the entire community.
Series creator and two-time Gemini award winner Tracey Deer thanked her colleagues for their hard work as well as her fellow Kahnawa’kehró:non (the Mohawk people from Kahnawake) for giving her inspiration and embracing her vision. As a director who until now was best known for her non-fiction work, having attained critical acclaim for her 2005 documentary (also titled Mohawk Girls), Deer said making the successful leap to fiction marks a milestone in her career.
“I came up with the idea for this show around 10 years ago, but I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker ever since I was 12 years old,” said Deer. “That little girl dreamed of fiction, dreamed of sets with big equipment. Being on set, it feels like this is where I belong, this is where I feel I’m supposed to be.”
Showrunner Cynthia Knight, who works closely with Deer in the scriptwriting and storyboarding process, said the series contains accurate portrayals of the everyday challenges faced by women everywhere, especially women from minority cultures and communities.
“On the surface, it’s light and entertaining, it’s got four young women trying to find themselves,” said Knight. “It’s totally universal to every woman in her 20s who’s trying to figure out: who she is, what kind of guy to date, who she wants to be; do you do what your family wants, or do you go your own way?”
Knight described the show as a “dramedy,” meaning that it is primarily intended to make people laugh. However, she insists the series is also a vehicle for social and political change and that dealing with issues like racism and tolerance in a romantic comedy is effective because it gets past people’s natural defenses and allows them to empathize to a greater extent with the characters and their dilemmas.
“Tracey and I both like to entertain, and educate through the entertainment as opposed to it being preachy or on the nose,” said Knight. “A lot of non-Native people have weird misconceptions about Native people, about Mohawks in particular. This show is a romantic comedy, but showing a very specific world and showing the universality of it. What we really want to do is build bridges and get this message across to non-Natives – they’re not weird or scary people, they’re just like you or me.”
One of the leading stars, Brittany LeBorgne, plays the success-driven, type-A personality Zoe. LeBorgne said her character is an authentic depiction of a modern Mohawk woman, and her struggles are the same ones faced by women in her community every day.
“What I know is Kahnawake because I’m from here, and as a Kahnawake woman I can say she’s pretty accurate,” explained LeBorgne. “It’s TV so it’s amped up somewhat for entertainment purposes, but at the core it is a fair representation.”
LeBorgne’s co-star, Heather White, plays Caitlin, a character who appears funny and confident in the first few episodes, but who, White said, goes on to explore some of the more heart-wrenching aspects of life on the reserve.
“What I hope people get out of Caitlin’s storyline is that it’s important to love yourself for who you are,” said White. “Caitlin goes on this journey where she’s not always smart-alecky and sassy with funny lines, she has a lot of self-esteem issues and hang-ups. Caitlin seeks validation from men, and she seeks out relationships that are maybe not the greatest.”
But it doesn’t stop there, according to Knight, the show reveals and then pushes boundaries even closer to home. Using humour as a suit of armour, Mohawk Girls confronts contemporary social issues in the Mohawk community, which many community members still consider highly controversial and taboo.
“What we are touching on is a Native girl falling in love with a white guy, and what that looks like and how the community responds,” said Knight. “It’s a touchy issue, we’re very aware that some people will love it, some will be uncomfortable, and others will think we should not be talking about it. But hopefully even the negative comments will start a discussion.”
Mohawk Girls airs back-to-back episodes at 9:00pm and 9:30pm, Sundays on OMNI 1 and Tuesdays on APTN