Two Spirits interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss of her son with a revealing look at the largely unknown history of a time when the world wasn’t simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders.Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. He was one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at sixteen. Two Spirits explores the life and death of a boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender.The film makes the case that in the twenty-first century we all benefit from the balance of the masculine and feminine.Two Spirits tells compelling stories about traditions that were once widespread among the indigenous cultures of North America. The film explores the contemporary lives and history of Native two-spirit people—who combine the traits of both men and women with qualities that are also unique to individuals who express multiple genders.The Navajo believe that to maintain harmony, there must be a balanced interrelationship between the feminine and the masculine within the individual, in families, in the culture, and in the natural world. Two Spirits reveals how these beliefs are expressed in a natural range of gender diversity. For the first time on film, it examines the Navajo concept of nádleehí, “one who constantly transforms.”In Navajo culture, there are four genders; some indigenous cultures recognize more. Native activists working to renew their cultural heritage adopted the English term “two- spirit” as a useful shorthand to describe the entire spectrum of gender and sexual expression that is better and more completely described in their own languages. The film demonstrates how they are revitalizing two-spirit traditions and once again claiming their rightful place within their tribal communities.Two Spirits mourns the young Fred Martinez and the threatened disappearance of the two-spirit tradition, but it also brims with hope and the belief that we all are enriched by multi-gendered people, and that all of us—regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or cultural heritage—benefit from being free to be our truest selves.
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What was the inspiration for becoming a filmmaker?I’m inspired by true stories that have a compelling reason to be told, and am also drawn to creating fictional stories that are well-researched and have veracity as well as depth. Filmmaking offers a seductive combination of character, image, and music, and although I often work as a writer in other endeavors, it’s film that provides my most fulfilling experience as a storyteller. I love creating a world on screen that has the power to pull the audience into the lives of others in unexpected ways. When I’ve accomplished that and can sense the shift in the viewer’s thinking or mood, it’s exhilarating.Who or what is the greatest influence on your filmmaking?I’m drawn to the work of directors who bring an unsentimental but humane eye to a story and execute it with intelligence and a strong artistic vision.What was the inspiration for this film?The creative inspiration for Two Spirits came from three sources—a photograph of Fred with arms and head held high, taken just a few weeks before he was killed and only a few feet from the place from where his body was found. The second is a haunting peyote chant that moves from a prayer in Navajo to the words “God bless America,” as if to invoke that healing. And the third is Patti Smith’s song Gone Again, which has precisely the fierce, unbowed, and also hugely loving energy with which I wanted to end the film—with deep loss and also a sense of hope.