Published in Comparative Education Review - University of Chicago Press.
As a California (Esselen) Indian woman and educator, I was enthralled with this film, especially with its protagonist, Aila, played by 19 year old Mohawk actress, Kawennahere Devery Jacobs. Aila represents everything that is true about Native women. She is strong, independent, and organically intellectual. Jacob’s ability to “be” Aila is not merely because of her acting ability, but because she is a Mohawk woman and is reenacting a story that is true for the members of her own family. This is significant because it makes the movie with a fictional plot seem autobiographical. One scene in particular resonated with me as a powerful metaphor for Native women, no matter what tribe or ethnicity. In this scene, Aila is taken into the residential school and her hair is forcibly cut by the nuns. She cries tears, not only mourning for her loss of hair, but for generations upon generations of indigenous North Americans who were oppressed. Aila chooses to fight rather than run away. She looks after her family members even when it seems like they are not looking after her. She draws pictures of an Indian warrior on a horse, the same hero that her mother drew before her death. This hero woman represents her mother. It represents all Indian women and without ever realizing it, Aila is transformed into this hero. In the film Aila speaks her tribal language, she knows her culture and she embraces it even though the non-Indian viewer may not be able to see it. In a flashback with her mom, a young Aila doesn’t understand why they are painting a headdress on an Indian when Mi’gMaq people didn’t wear headdresses. Her mother tells her “some people think it looks powerful.” Aila questions why that is and her mother tells her because they are “dumbasses.” Aila gets hit and gets up time after time. Aila is my cousin, my mother, and my sister. Aila is me. “Rhymes for Young Ghouls” is a film that embraces and highlights everything that it means to be Indian, the good and the bad. The main character teaches young women to be fierce, to be bold, and that by trying to forget, we only create new memories that are even more powerful than the old.