We must hold celebrity friends and colleagues of Misty Upham accountable for not speaking out; she is exactly who #TimesUp should be fighting for.
by Abaki Beck
[TW/CW: Mentions of sexual violence and rape]
This year’s Golden Globes were decidedly different than years past. Attendees wore black in solidarity with the #TimesUp campaign. Eight actresses brought activists combating sexual violence and gender inequity as their guests. The recent attention to the pervasiveness of sexual assault in Hollywood was not entirely swept under the red carpet.
Yet perhaps unexpectedly, one individual was left completely unacknowledged: Misty Upham. Misty Upham was a rising Blackfeet actress who was featured in critically acclaimed films like “Django Unchained”, “Frozen River” and “August: Osage County”. She was also raped by a Weinstein Company executive at the 2013 Golden Globes and died under mysterious circumstances in 2014. In the era of #TimesUp and #MeToo, her story cannot be forgotten.
In October 2014, Upham was found dead in a ravine on the Muckleshoot Reservation in Washington state after having been missing for 11 days. The exact details of Upham’s death are still unclear. Her family has maintained that she fell while fleeing from the police; Upham had been involuntarily admitted for psychiatric care by police on multiple occasions, including just weeks before her death. When Upham went missing, Native social media went ablaze: she was not just an actress in Hollywood, she was one of us. She reminded us of our cousins, our aunties, or ourselves. Upham was not just an individual disappearance or death; she was one of thousands of missing Indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada.
Her death initially made waves in media across the nation, and her family received condolences from industry A-listers like co-star Meryl Streep and director Daniel Barnz. But then there was silence. Today, Upham’s story has been excluded from all prominent conversations on gender inequity and sexual violence in Hollywood. Native activists on Twitter did not leave Upham’s absence at the Golden Globes unacknowledged, using the hashtag #RememberingMistyUpham alongside #TimesUp to raise awareness. Sexual and gendered violence is one of the greatest issues plaguing Indian Country: more than 80% of Native American women have experienced physical violence, and more than half have experienced sexual violence. Where is the public outcry for us?
Two weeks after the explosive New York Times article on Harvey Weinstein and the growth of the #MeToo movement, Upham’s father revealed in a Facebook post that she had been raped at the 2013 Golden Globes by an Executive of the Weinstein company (as witnesses apparently cheered the rapist on “as if he were chugging a beer in a contest”). Charles Upham said that he and her mother urged their daughter to press charges, but she was extremely fearful of retaliation and the impact a public accusation may have on her burgeoning career.
If a rising actress can be raped by a Hollywood executive and not see justice, if her disappearance can make national news but not lead to a police search, what does this mean for the countless Native American women, trans and two-spirit people whose trauma goes completely unacknowledged?
As we continue to publicly reckon with sexual violence, the stories of those most marginalized must be at the forefront. The systems that claimed to protect Misty Upham failed her. We cannot do the same. We must hold celebrity friends and colleagues of Misty Upham accountable for not speaking out; she is exactly who #TimesUp should be fighting for.
We must uplift Native American leaders who are providing culturally competent care for survivors of violence, strengthening their tribal courts’ ability to prosecute non-Native offenders, or organizing community-led databases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, trans and two-spirit people.
We must not only include, but listen to and center the stories, experiences, and ideas of the many, many Native women, trans, and two-spirit people fighting for gender equity and a violence free world.
Native American women are more likely to be raped than women of any other race. Native American women are more likely to experience violent crime than women of any other race. Our stories must be heard. Our women must be honored and remembered. This must be Misty Upham’s legacy.
Abaki Beck (she/her/hers) is a young writer and agitator passionate about racial justice, community health, and Indigenous community resiliency. Abaki is the founder and editor of POC Online Classroom, a website that curates social justice readings, resources, and syllabi and is co-editor of the Daughters of Violence zine. She is a proud member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana with Red River Métis and European-American blood mixed in. Her writing can be found in Bitch, the Establishment, and Aperture, among other media.