The Two-Spirit, Indigenous Filmmaker You Need to Know | Sunday Observer

The Two-Spirit, Indigenous Filmmaker You Need to Know

22 November, 2020

In honour of Native American Heritage Month, we’re exploring what it means to be a resilient, young Indigenous person in 2020 and the changemakers working to decolonise our world.

Fox Maxy’s short films are montages of a singular Native American life, knit together in seamless motion, as if they capture consciousness itself. The artiste behind Civic Films creates definitively avant-garde productions, (like Maat Means Land, One Big Selfie, and Muzzles Off) which move fluidly, carrying the viewer through layered dimensions of real and virtual space. Native voices are speaking, fragmented landscapes of Southern California stream, as moving pictures of a life happening now connect to other Native lives today, craftily imposing questions about the nature of identity, land, and time.

Growing up

The Ipai Kumeyaay and Payómkawichum artiste grew up in the inland region of San Diego, where desert and mountains lay in place of the urban constructs concentrated along the city’s coastal perimeter. The two-spirit filmmaker was adopted and raised by loving parents, two academics who worked in the areas of political science and philosophy, respectively. An only child, Fox remembers his childhood outside, long days in the sun and the warm winds, always around horses. The Native American Reservation where his biological family lived lay geographically close, but was otherwise invisible.

“I had no idea that’s where I came from,” Fox confesses to me. Like most young people coming of age, as a teenager, he was a mystery guest in his own experience, uncertain of who he really is. “I would go to my land with friends, begging them to drive me over there, just because it felt good to sit on a rock out in the middle of nowhere.” It was many years later when Fox learned that this nowhere-land of inexplicable peace is the home of a tribe he also belongs to, a quartered off plot of land belonging to his own Native ancestors who once lived freely beyond its borders, across the area known today as Southern California.

“I had no idea what a Native American was,” Fox says, recalling those days in his youth. “I didn’t have a sense of my own identity like that.” He was loved and felt safe with his parents, but the connectedness at home ended there. “Every time I left my parents, I would always have to answer a million questions about my existence. I got sick of it early on, so I didn’t really ask any questions myself.”

Outsider

Fox says he was an outsider in part because he was surrounded by the children of white-supremacists, carrying on their own ancestral tradition of racism. “I grew up with either white kids or Mexican kids, and 90 percent of the white kids were white-power affiliated. I’m used to people saying ‘ew’ at the sight of me, or telling me to wash my skin, or refusing to be in an enclosed space with me. I was used to racism and rage from an early age. All I knew was that I was a freak.”

Like many deemed to be’ freaks’ before him, Fox fled his hometown after high school, following the migration route of outsiders and artists well-established in the 20th Century to New York City. “My [adopted] mom is from Brooklyn, my dad from Chicago and I grew up visiting big cities. That’s where I got my love for New York. I was there for almost a decade and really got to experience it all.” At 26, Fox met his biological parents. With newfound clarity, Fox returned West. “I left my small town in such a hurry and felt so negative toward it, but the minute I moved back, and met my family, it all made sense. I feel like the land really shaped me.”

Earlier in his life, Fox was more politically active than he is today. He used to fight for policy reform, land rights, and environmental causes but after a while felt like people were “perpetuating the same colonial structures we were fighting against.” He adds, “I can’t blame people for carrying on what they see, colonisation is a hell of a thing.”

Today, he’s more concerned with storytelling and connecting with his family on their reservation. “There are 18 reservations just in San Diego — I gotta say that to add some context. But I love how I have family all over SoCal, I really spend most of my time with them. I visit my parents, my uncles, my cousins. I’m focusing on learning my culture, as much as I can. Even just to walk through some of our mountain areas and look at all the plants, that’s learning for me.”

Filmmaker

Fox has always wanted to be a filmmaker. He began his foray into filmmaking by making clips on Instagram. His practice is rooted in the means available to him, which is why his films are shot on a phone — yet have an early Tumblr, analog feel. He is inspired by artises that span generations, popularity, and genre. “I love James Luna, John Akomfrah & the Black Audio Film Collective, Ryan Trecartin, Bjork, Paul McCarthy, Kim Kardashian, Pipilotti Rist, Rob Zombie, Issa Rae, and Cat Marnell,” Fox shares.

Fox learned how to edit film on Instagram. “Step by step,” he says, reflecting on the humble, isolated origin of his artmaking from his unexpected present position of mainstream exposure. “I would make things out of pure rage, just so angry that no matter how hard I worked, I was still invisible to the world,” Fox says.

White-supremacy

It’s not secret that in the art world, there are barriers of entry erected by the same colonialist social institutions and heteronormative white-supremacy — that have often erased histories of Native people. Yet, Fox doesn’t let these paradigms stop him from creating the work. Fox felt that it was impossible to make a movie, until he realised that filmmaking isn’t controlled by outside powers. Rather, it is a practice, possible for anyone with the means to capture moving images.

“Anyone can make a movie,” Fox says. “This colonised world really makes people think they have to take direction from somebody or something. I don’t know anything more than anyone else. I make up my own rules, and I hope my work can let people know that they can do whatever the hell they want.”

Fox is still processing the fact that people beyond his own community are beginning to care about his work and that it’s being seen. Despite being deeply loved by family, Fox has suffered greatly since childhood, feeling placeless, unbound, unwanted, and without origin in a world that would sooner forget that he is here, than listen to him speak.

“I’ve learned about intergenerational trauma, and how the destruction of our land hurts us in more ways than just physical health,” Fox explains. Looking back on the difficulties that brought him here, he can’t help but hope that his story, his art, can help other people, whoever they are. “I’ve not wanted to be here since I was in preschool,” he shares. Fox has lived with what psychologists might call suicidal ideation for virtually his entire life.

“I really have wanted to die since I was a little baby,” Fox says. Yet it is there, in the sandstorm of existence, on the road to a nowhere land, where the pain of rootlessness has been eased by the resilience of stone and the eternity of sky. The land of his people has been stolen, soaked in blood, and forgotten. Yet the stones in the desert, which once held him in the sun, back when he had no reason to know he was home, are still standing.

“I am so grateful for all the battles, and the horrible shit that’s happened so far, because that’s what’s made me want to keep living,” he says. “I have a dog named Peltier, I got her at Standing Rock, traded her for a blanket.”

Adding, “This is the best time in my life. I see how precious life is, how important I am, and how I have a purpose in this life. So to finally be able to reach more people with my work, it’s like a further extension of wanting to be alive. I’m no longer erased.”

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