Big Sky controversy – why the ABC drama is receiving backlash

Abby Robinson
·4 min read
Photo credit: ABC
Photo credit: ABC

From Digital Spy

As we noted in our review of ABC's Big Sky, the way in which the drama uses female fear and trauma to entertain is questionable, and not a plot device some viewers will want to engage with.

In the first episode, sisters Danielle (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Grace (Jade Pettyjohn) are kidnapped after their car breaks down on a dark and lonely road. But the pair are just two of a multitude of women who have vanished on that particular highway.

We later find out that a sex trafficking operation is the reason behind the disappearances.

Photo credit: ABC - YouTube
Photo credit: ABC - YouTube

A Gay Kingman is the executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Association (GPTCA), an organisation which aims to defend and promote the rights of tribes and Indigenous peoples.

In a statement, Kingman criticised Big Sky for "making the abduction and trafficking of women...primetime entertainment", but she also drew attention to another troubling aspect of the narrative.

"Erasing the real-life tragedy of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) crisis is unconscionable," she said.

"We live with the consequences of this loss and trauma on a daily basis, but ABC won't even acknowledge it, even after they've been given an opportunity to do so."

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) and several others also contacted ABC executives and Big Sky producers to make their feelings known.

Photo credit: Andrew Lichtenstein - Getty Images
Photo credit: Andrew Lichtenstein - Getty Images

Big Sky was originally supposed to film in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Las Vegas, Nevada, but due to the pandemic, it moved to Vancouver, in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, West Canada.

Journalist Brandi Morin is an Indigenous woman who wrote a piece for The Guardian about the epidemic and her own experience within it.

"In Canada, Indigenous women and girls are targeted for violence more than any other group," she wrote. "They are 12 times more likely to go missing or be killed.

"There have been approximately 4,000 or more Indigenous murdered or missing women and girls in the last 30 years. That works out to about 133 a year, or three a week."

According to Melissa Moses, a representative for the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), "violence against Indigenous women is particularly endemic in British Columbia".

That is also where "one of the most infamous highways in Canada, 'the Highway of Tears', is located".

Photo credit: ABC
Photo credit: ABC

In 2016, The New York Times ran a piece which detailed why Highway 16, the 450-mile route that stretches from Prince George to Prince Rupert, has been labelled as such.

"Dozens of Canadian women and girls, most of them Indigenous, have disappeared or been murdered near Highway 16," wrote Dan Levin. "So many women and girls have vanished or turned up dead along one stretch of the road that residents call it the Highway of Tears."

He added: "Almost all the cases remain unsolved."

Photo credit: Andrew Lichtenstein - Getty Images
Photo credit: Andrew Lichtenstein - Getty Images

For Moses and many others, the "highway is a painful and haunting symbol of the violence destroying Indigenous lives and bears resemblance to the one depicted in 'The Highway', the novel Big Sky is adapted from".

But that reality isn't reflected in the series, which its critics argue paints an "incomplete depiction of violence against women and girls".

Big Sky itself is set in Montana where, according to Moses, "the violence and gender-based genocide represented by the Highway of Tears is horrifically prevalent".

She discusses that while tribal members only make up 7% of the population in Montana, 26% of those who have disappeared are Native American.

Photo credit: ABC
Photo credit: ABC

The organisations are calling for ABC to "address and rectify" the issue, which has been described as "at best, cultural insensitivity, and at worst, appropriation".

One such way of doing that would be to include an "information frame" at the end of the credits to point viewers in the direction of documentary Somebody’s Daughter and other resources about Native and Indigenous women who have been swept up in this tragedy.

Digital Spy has reached out to ABC for comment.

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