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Sundance Review | FIVE SUNS | "Bad Press"

Sundance Institute
A still from Bad Press by Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

In the documentary "Bad Press," Directors Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler tell a riveting story based on the fact, incredible but true, that Native Americans subject to their tribal governments don’t necessarily have the right of free speech. The tribes are sovereign nations, and don’t follow the U.S. Constitution.

In 2018, the National Council of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma consider a resolution to remove 1st Amendment protection from the print and radio reporters of Mvskoke Media, who are funded by the tribe.

The resolution passes by a hair. The deciding vote is cast by the same council member who sponsored the resolution (also the same guy featured in Mvskoke’s report, the year before, about a sexual-harassment allegation.)

In a dramatic story spanning several years, the local reporters campaign for new tribal leaders, and beyond that, to explicitly enact protection for free speech in the Muscogee Constitution.

Clearly, the heroine of the story is reporter Angel Ellis—a salty, no-nonsense, stubborn character that any Hollywood screenwriter would be proud to invent.