A Eulogy for Misty Upham
It was recently reported that Misty Upham, an actress best known for her work in Frozen River and August Osage County, was found dead in a ravine. It was later revealed that her death was caused by blunt force trauma to her head and torso, although the precise circumstances of her death are still a mystery.
Misty was a rare gem in the entertainment industry. As a Native American woman, she represented a demographic rarely accounted for in the media. According to a study conducted by the USC Annenberg School, only 3.6% of characters in top-grossing films qualified as “other” in 2012. This category includes American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, and characters with two or more apparent racial/ethnic origins. 83.9% of characters identified as “other” were men, while only 16.1% were women. This under-representation speaks not only to our continuous insistence on marginalizing the stories of women and minorities generally, but also to the way in which we still ignore the experiences of women of color specifically.
There has been speculation over whether Misty’s death was a suicide or murder, but it’s worth noting that either reflects the violence that afflicts the lives of many Native American women. The suicide rate of Native Americans is higher than that of any other ethnic group in the United States. Native Americans are also 10 times more likely to be murdered than other Americans and 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races. One in three Native American women reports having been raped during her lifetime. Native Americans also experienced violence at a rate more than twice the rate for the nation (101 violent crimes per 1,000 American Indians).
What is certain, however, is that Misty’s death is a tragic loss. Though Misty achieved success in an industry largely inaccessible to both women and people of color, her death exemplifies just one way in which Native Americans still face disproportionate hardships in this country. Hopefully in addition to highlighting a specific struggle with lethal violence that Native Americans commonly face, media coverage of Misty’s death will draw attention to racial profiling and violence more broadly. The more frequently and loudly the media covers such incidences and condemns violence directed towards minorities, the closer we come to instigating change.
More articles by Category: Feminism, Gender-based violence, Media, Race/Ethnicity, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, News, Sexualized violence, Racism, Domestic violence, Women of color, Equality