On Monday, Jan. 20, ‘Fancy Dance’—a film about matrilineal love and the complexities of family
and care in Indigenous communities—premiered at Eccles Theater at the Sundance Film
Festival in Park City, Utah.
Sealaska shareholder and descendant Miciana Áak’w Ta Sháa Alise co-wrote the film alongside
Seneca–Cayuga filmmaker Erica Tremblay, who recently worked as a writer and executive
story editor on Reservation Dogs at FX.
‘Fancy Dance’ confronts real and painful issues facing Indigenous women and families, but it
also focuses on joy and happiness, which often gets lost in mainstream portrayals of Native
Alise, who is Black and Tlingit, described the experience of watching ‘Fancy Dance’ on the big
screen for the first time as simultaneously the most nerve-wracking and fulfilling moment of her
“Besides being a big moment for me, it was a big moment in moving the needle in an industry
that has historically overlooked Native Women. We spent two years pouring our hearts and
souls into these characters and the crafting of this story to honor our people and communities,”
Just a few years ago, Alise was still on the cusp of her entry into the world of film. After earning
a bachelor’s degree in Indigenous and American Indian studies at Haskell Indian Nations
University, a Google search led her to Arizona State University’s film and media studies online
program. The program provided her with access to mentorship, skill-building and career
development resources without sacrificing flexibility and accessibility.
Since then, Alise’s talent and drive has set her career in motion and earned her a number of
accolades, including her first feature script, ‘Nancy’s Girls,’ followed by acceptance into the
Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program and, most recently, into the inaugural cohort of Adobe
Alise jokes that her passion for film and media comes from growing up in Southeast Alaska as a
sub-par athlete.’ “When you’re raised in a place where you spend the majority of the year
indoors to stay out the cold and rain, and you aren’t good at basketball, your imagination
becomes your best friend. I loved getting lost in movies and imagining what the world outside of
Juneau looked like – how many different walks of life existed in the world.”
This made her a highly empathetic person, Alise said. But it also made her notice a trend in film
– that the overwhelming majority of what we see on screen highlights the lives and stories of
white characters. “I never saw myself,” she said. “My decision to become the person crafting the
stories came from the craving to see people like me on the screen.”
Alise knows that the power to represent Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) on
screen comes with great responsibility . She believes that film and media plays a key role in the
formation of self image, especially for young people, and it’s critical to portray the humanity, love
and culture present in BIPOC communities on a world stage.
“Film is an acknowledgement, a historical record and a mirror.” Alise said. “What I share may
not always be what others want to hear, or are ready to confront and embrace, but it will always
be rooted in truth and love for who we are.”
She thinks of it like wearing a button robe, Alise said. “We carry our clan crests and our families
with us when we wear our robes. We must act and speak responsibly because we represent our
Though the film industry has long excluded and misrepresented women, BIPOC, members of
the LGBTQIA+ community and people with disabilities, Alise is optimistic about the future and
energized by the increasing presence and influence of Indigenous creatives.
Still, there’s still a significant lack of representation when it comes to intersectional BIPOC
identities – people like Alise herself, whose experience as an Afro-Indigenous woman doesn’t fit
in a box.
“We can’t move some of our people forward and leave others behind because they don’t fit
Hollywood’s stereotype,” she said. “Our stories [as Afro-Indigenous people] are just as vital as
February is Black History Month, a time which has become more and more important to Alise as
she’s grown up, navigated her identity and watched the world around us change, she said.
“We see African American studies courses being banned from schools, Black lives being
violently lost at the hands of those in positions of unchecked power and inequitable
representation within government, business and other institutions,” she said. “Now more than
ever, we must keep telling Black truths and advocating for Black communities, whose
contributions to society are irreplaceable, irrefutable, and imperative.”
Alise believes that learning about and honoring Black history—which she sees as deeply
intertwined with Indigenous history— makes us better people. “I know without a shadow of a
doubt that it’s made me better, as a human and a filmmaker,” she said.