On February 3, 2023, Showtime premiered the docuseries “Murder in Big Horn.” It spotlights the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) that has been prevalent since colonization. Directed by Razelle Benally and Matthew Galkin, the three-part docuseries examines the circumstances surrounding many of these cases. Watch the trailer below.
The docuseries told solely through the perspectives of those involved: Native families, Native journalists, and local law enforcement officers, currently holds an 82% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Read our review roundup below.
Courtney Small of That Shelf writes, “in places like Big Horn County, Montana, the target on the backs of Native American women has been there from birth…Due to its unique location on Interstate 90, Big Horn County is an area where members of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Nations mix with non-Natives and travelers passing through. It has also become a hunting ground of sorts for predators seeking to pounce on unsuspecting Indigenous women—often leaving their communities to pick up the pieces after another devastating loss. Adding salt to this open wound is the fact that neither local nor federal law enforcement agencies seem interested in searching for these missing women or questioning the circumstances surrounding their deaths.” Understanding these “tense racial dynamics and historic injustices” packs quite a wallop. Small concludes, “In order to stop the kidnapping and murders of Indigenous women in Big Horn, and across North America, society needs to finally start addressing the systemic problems that have allowed it to continue for so long. Early on in the series one individual states that these women are ‘the silent population that disappears.’ Murder in Big Horn makes it clear that it is time for both the disappearing and the silence to end.”
Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com notes that the trend of docuseries tackling difficult subjects is a trend that has become prevalent. “How can you possibly consider the dynamics that lead to such tragedy when you’re swept off to the next docuseries before you really have time to digest it?” He has hope that this particular docuseries is not as quickly forgotten. “In just the last decade, dozens of Indigenous girls have gone missing from the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Nations, many of them found dead days or weeks later, their deaths blamed on the frigid elements to which they possibly succumbed. ‘Murder in Big Horn’ asks detailed questions about the very specific cases it profiles, particularly the deaths of Selena Not Afraid and Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, but this is not really a murder mystery. It’s more of a commentary on a deeply broken system that not only doesn’t provide safety nets for the women of Indigenous communities but barely acts when they disappear. The authorities seem almost eager to sweep these cases under the rug with one even suggesting that he doesn’t believe the MMIW Movement (Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women) isn’t a real thing, blaming the community itself for failing to regulate its people.” By interviewing those directly involved with the cases, the docuseries adds a depth that allows it to truly shine. Tallerico concludes, “The truth is that Indigenous young women are one of the country’s most vulnerable populations, and too few people are doing enough to protect them. Why? What do we do about it? How do we hold journalists, law enforcement, and the communities themselves to a higher standard so this stops happening? Stop and ask yourself these questions before hitting play on the next docuseries. Selena Not Afraid and the hundreds of girls like her deserve it.”
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Amber Dowling of Variety begins by noting, “There are thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women (MMIW) across the United States and Canada, and in Montana those numbers are particularly high.” These cases are left unresolved more often than not with authorities quick to jump to the next case. She adds, “Filmmakers Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné) and Matthew Galkin go deep into the community to interview family members, law enforcement, lawyers, local journalists and community leaders to paint a full and harrowing picture of what life as a young Indigenous woman is like, honing in on three particularly enraging cases from the past four years.” The inclusion of those closely involved with the cases allows the docuseries to stand out and potentially make a difference. “Frustratingly, what the doc fails to do is provide any possible solutions to this crisis or to pose what happens next, potentially because any solutions are too nuanced and complex to tackle in the provided timeframe. Delving into that red tape could also be a disservice to the subjects themselves, snatching their opportunity to tell their side of the story or to highlight why they continue to stay.” Dowling concludes, “By bringing that frustrating truth to the conversation and allowing Indigenous people to advocate for themselves in these interviews, the filmmakers have opened the door for the larger, national conversation about the need for actual and lasting change.”
Ned Booth of The Playlist explains the premise of the docuseries before adding, “Showtime‘s new doc series, ‘Murder In Big Horn,’ covers four recent cases of missing NA teenagers: Henny Scott, age 14, in 2018; Shacaiah Harding, 20, also in 2018; Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, 18, in 2019; and Selena Not Afraid, 16, in 2020.” He continues, “So why aren’t more of these cases solved? Jurisdictional issues play a significant factor in their low success rate. Who heads an investigation depends on four factors: the victim, their ethnicity, the perpetrator, and the location of a discovered body. If it’s a native victim on reservation land, it’s a job for the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). But with a body on county land, like Kaysera Sits Pretty Places, the local sheriff’s department handles the case.” Booth adds, “However, NAs understand all too well the truth of ‘this garbage system we’ve inherited’ and the ‘internalized disposability’ it breeds. Lucy Simpson of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center traces her community’s maladies to ‘federal policies [that worked] toward terminating Indian nations,’ like Indian boarding schools.” The critic concludes, “But make no mistake: ‘Murder In Big Horn’ is as harrowing as shows like this get. This series unflinchingly tells the latest chapter of America’s colonial history and deserves all the recognition it receives. These young women and their ancestors don’t deserve their fates, and no one should silence their stories.”
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