We tend to take freedom of the press for granted. But many Native American tribes in the U.S. do not guarantee journalistic independence in their constitutions.

When Oklahoma’s Muscogee Creek Nation government abruptly muzzled the tribe’s hard-hitting news outlet, journalist Angel Ellis charged headfirst into a historic battle to restore her tribe’s press freedoms.

The story is recounted in a suspenseful and surprisingly funny new documentary, Bad Press, which won a Special Jury Award for Freedom of Expression at the Sundance Film Festival.

Bad Press will be shown at a/perture Cinema on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

WFDD's Neal Charnoff spoke with the film’s co-directors Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, executive director of the Native American Journalist’s Association, and Joe Peeler, an award-winning director and editor.

Interview highlights:

On why many Native American tribes are not guaranteed press freedoms:

"It all falls under tribal sovereignty. So, you know, the tribes can restrict access to information however they want to, according to their tribal sovereignty, and ... unless it's in the tribal constitution, saying 'you have this right and this access,' then they don't necessarily have to grant that to their tribally funded media outlets," says Rebecca Landsberry-Baker.

On the challenges the filmmakers faced from tribal officials:

"There was a lot of getting kicked out of certain government buildings, getting kicked off tribal property. I think once they figured out what we were doing, they were not too happy about it. And I just don't want to blanket the Muscogee National Council. The factions on the council are split, and that was kind of the workings of the anti-freedom of press chunk of the council," says Joe Peeler.

On why the Muscogee media story resonates globally: 

"We screened the film in Poland at a Polish film festival. And one of the very first questions that we got during our Q&A was, someone raised their hand and stood up and said, 'You thought you were making a movie about Oklahoma, but you were actually making a movie about Poland.' And I just thought that's exactly what we were hoping that the audience would get out of the film, is that these things are happening all over the world. And these are things that everyone's dealing with, and this is just one slice of that. And extrapolate from that what's happening nationally and globally," says Joe Peeler. 

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