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A Towering Omission
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City skyline with the Chrysler Building

What should be done about the lack of Native American representation in a documentary about skyscrapers?


Here's the situation:

Tina Towers decided that the subject of her next documentary was right outside her window—the gravity-defying skyscrapers of New York City. Towers spent several years researching and producing a film about the construction of the dazzling Chrysler Building.

The film was going through the final stages of production when a screener raised a concern. He noticed that the five hours of footage in the final cut did not mention Native Americans at all, although the contributions of various immigrant groups were discussed. He knew from stories that had been passed down from his great grandfather that Native Americans had, in fact, helped construct the distinctive art deco Chrysler Building.

For more than a century, Mohawk Tribe ironworkers have worked on the skyscrapers and bridges that make up New York City’s iconic skyline. At the peak in the mid-1900s, members of the Mohawk Tribe made up about 15 percent of ironworkers in the area, and more than 800 “sky walkers” lived in a community in Brooklyn.

Towers argued that the film was not meant to exhaustively cover every group that contributed to building the Chrysler Building, and after spending two years and millions of dollars on the film she was not going to make substantive edits now.


What do you think? Please answer the questions below.

More to Consider:

  • Misrepresentation & Erasure: “Native Americans suffer from chronic misrepresentation and erasure by an established press, which continually fails to acknowledge the Indigenous timeline,” according to an opinion piece in the Columbia Journalism Review by Jenni Monet, a tribal citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna. See “The crisis in covering Indian Country,” from March 29, 2019.
  • Native American Ironworkers: An Iroquois Indian Museum exhibit honored Native Americans who helped build New York City’s famed skyscrapers. See “Honoring Native Americans who built skyscrapers, bridges,” from April 16, 2017 (The Daily Gazette).
  • Learn More about Representation: Former PBS ombudsman Michael Getler writes about Ken Burns’ decision to add Hispanic voices to “The War,” a 15-hour documentary about World War II. “I thought Burns did the right thing in adding these veterans,” Getler states. See “The War Is Over … Now, on to the Re-Runs,” from October 5, 2007.

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