Two Spirits

Two Spirits

About the Film

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 16. Two Spirits explores the life and death of this boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender. MORE

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.

The Filmmaker

Lydia Nibley

Director, co-producer, and co-writer Lydia Nibley creates film and television projects under the banner of Riding The Tiger Productions. Her work has been broadcast internationally and she has created and contributed to works that have received Emmy, Clio, and numerous film festival awards. Her next film, In Her Honor, deals with honor killings, and is in preproduction. It unravels the complex knot of tribal, religious, and family beliefs that make it acceptable for a man to murder a wife or daughter and defend the act with the logic, “A man is like a piece of gold; when he is dirtied he can easily be washed clean. But a woman is like silk; when she is dirtied she cannot be cleaned and must be destroyed.”


Film Credits

Directed by
Lydia Nibley

Produced by
Russell Martin
Lydia Nibley

Executive Producer
Henry Ansbacher

Associate Producers
Peggy Ensign
Jen Rainin

Associate Producers
Terri Krug
Patrick Sternberg

Written by
Russell Martin
Lydia Nibley

Darrin Navarro

Director of Photography
David A. Armstrong

Additional Photography
Adam Honzl
Scott Ransom

Original Still Photography by
Krissie Gregory

Map Animation by
Russell Calabrese

Sound Designer and Re-Recording Mixer
Ronald Eng

Sound Editor
Robert Troy

Production Sound Recordists
Kevin Bowe
Paul Graff
Ryan Thompson
Ron Kanter

Post-Production Sound Services Provided by
Sammy Sound

ADR Recordists
Sam Aronson
Erick Meany

Post-Production Supervisor
Darrin Navarro

Production Manager
John Peters-Campbell

Production Accountant
Michael Donner

Production Assistants
Jewell Arcoren
Tim Wilson

Research Assistant
Olivia Kanz

Makeup Department Head
Nikki Carbonetta

Makeup Artist
Amber London

As Themselves, In Order of Appearance
Paula Mitchell
John Peters-Campbell
Albert Mcleod
John Parker
L. Frank
Juantio Becenti
Wesley Thomas
Richard LaFortune
Mark Thompson
Cathy Renna
Travis Goldtooth
Gail Binkly


Craig Benally as Fred Martinez, Jr.

Samuel Parga as Shaun Murphy

Boys Looking For Lizards
Carter Halnier
Malachi Church

Production and Creative Advertising Services Provided by
Alphadogs and Toy Box Entertainment

Supervising Producer
Russell Harnden III

Vice Asta
Brandon Floyd
Jonathan Rice

Additional Editing
Carl Alfaro

Archival Material Courtesy of
The Family of Fred Martinez, Jr.
Annabelle Janssen
Brian Gleason
Juantio Becenti
Albert Mcleod
Dr. James R. Brust
David Bowyer Productions
Echo Films
David Fortney
Cortez Journal
The Durango Herald
Cumberland County Historical Society
Denver Public Library
Library of Congress
Minnesota Historical Society
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian
The National Archives
Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture
Oregon Historical Society
Palace of the Governors, New Mexico
University of Washington
Whyte Museum

Original Music
Juantio Becenti
Anthony Wakeman & Mr. Soon
David Reyes

Additional Music by

Patti Smith

The Beautiful Losers Society

The Holy Smokers

Mandy Hoffman

Lee Harris

Canyon Records Provided Music by the Following Native Artists
Anthony Wakeman
Mr. Soon
Verdell Primeaux
Johnny Mike
Robert Attson
Radmilla Cody
Louie Gonnie

Special Thanks
Chuck Barry and Rosie Carter
Bee Creative
The Rev. Malcolm Boyd
Peter Broderick
Rosemary Carroll
Joey Chavez
Fred Estrada
Steve Harmon
Sonja Horoshko
The Family of Fred Martinez, Jr.
Roland Mesa and Barry Samson
Judy Shepard
Stephen Williams

Funding Provided by
Jean R. Martin
B. W. Bastian Foundation
First Nations Composers Initiative
Ford Foundation
Rainbow Endowment
Eugene & Barbara Sternberg Family Foundation
Ballantine Family Fund
Martha Beck and Karen Gerdes
Susan Gray
Playboy Foundation
Monette-Horwitz Trust
Barbara Bridges
Pat Gourley
Megan Nibley
Coy Stout II and Jeffrey S. Falk

And others. A complete list Is available from PBS.

Two Spirits is a co-production of Riding the Tiger Productions LLC,
Say Yes Quickly, and Just Media.

This program was produced by Riding The Tiger Productions LLC
which is solely responsible for its content.

©2010 Riding The Tiger Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

Gender roles in Western society have generally been strictly binary — there are men and there are women, and what they are expected and permitted to do follows from the moment the doctor says "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" Why is it so upsetting for some to consider that sometimes, maybe "It's neither!" or "It's both!" might also be true?


  • 2011 Independent Lens Audience Award
Please review our comment guidelines.
Gender roles in Western society have generally been strictly binary — there are men and there are women, and what they are expected and permitted to do follows from the moment the doctor says "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" Why is it so upsetting for some to consider that sometimes, maybe "It's neither!" or "It's both!" might also be true?