SLAMDANCE 2021 Premiere – Birdie Blackwater (Kyla Garcia) is washed up. A Native American country singer who “made good,” she got herself off the reservation and into the hearts and homes of the nation. Her music career is in it’s final, careening chapters, and shudders to a grinding halt as she gets caught up in a mess of addiction and alcoholism. Court-ordered to enter a support group and get sober, she tries her best to cheat her way past the larger than life presence of group facilitator Robert (Branscombe Richmond). Unable to wiggle her way out of the weekly sob story fireside chats, she begrudgingly sits down and makes herself as invisible as possible. Thankfully for us, Blackwater is larger than life, and won’t take anything from anybody–which is evident as she faces a room full of bizarre and crazy characters trying to make use of the world’s most useless support group.
Written and directed by Boise Badilla Esquerra, an MFA and Screenwriting Alum of New York Film Academy and Hopi Native American developed Blackwater after the crushing news that his brother had developed critical cirrhosis of the liver. Reflecting on the unique addiction struggles Native Americans face, and the lack of resources they’re met with, drew him to develop Blackwater while he was still attending NYFA.
Esquerra’s unique voice and perspective on an issue incredibly close to home is piercing–and provides delicate insight into a world many are too privileged to be aware of. Where the total population of the United States boasts approximately a 5% rate of alcoholism, nearly 8% of Native Americans are alcoholics. 1 in 10 Native Americans live with an alcohol use disorder, and the problem is amplified on reservations where resources are often low and recreational and binge drinking rates are high. This problem is hugely impactful and often ignored–and Esquerra is bringing it to light with humor and honesty.
A cast of fine Native actors fill out the ragtag team of recoverees filling the crappy plastic chairs of the support group, reminding the white filmmakers of the world the untapped potential of Native voices. Bravo to Esquerra and team for making a niche piece of media that speaks to the masses.
Blackwater is currently playing at Slamdance 2021.
7 out of 10