Netflix’s CHAMBERS is a New Standard for Native American Representation

Chambers, a new Netflix show, is more than just another supernatural thriller. It’s the first Netflix original to have a Native American female lead (Sivan Alyra Rose) and is a detailed social metaphor from the point-of-view of a high school student after the heart she receives in a transplant turns out to be haunted by its original owner.

Tell Me About Your First Time

The show opens with Sasha, a 17-year-old Diné senior who has a heart attack while trying to lose her virginity. Her boyfriend, TJ (Griffin Powell-Arcand), rushes her to the hospital where coincidentally, a young girl from the next town over dies, providing a perfect donor match. This donor, Becky Lefevre (Lilliya Scarlett Reid), comes from a white upper-class family who is a part of a cult-like community called the Annex. Becky’s parents (Tony Goldwyn and Uma Thurman) want to stay close with this last living part of their daughter by becoming friends with Sasha. They also give her a scholarship for the nice private school in their town. Suddenly, Sasha starts having flashes of Becky’s own memories.

The quest to find out if Becky was a malicious soul or if she was murdered becomes Sasha’s motive for being involved in this high-class, weirdly spiritual society. This possible murder mystery comes with consequences as the more she lets her donor’s spirit through, the more Becky takes over Sasha’s body, and slowly the blonde hair, blue eyes, and perfectly polished fingernails appear.

source: Netflix

A Haunted Heart + High School Drama = Everything You Want

The overall structure of this Netflix original is complex but leaves not even the smallest story line, other than the obvious twist at the end, unresolved. There were a couple of instances where the writing felt forced but then an episode later would be revisited in order for plot holes to be avoided. This attention to detail takes this high school thriller/drama to a level beyond other current shows that have reached an unfashionable level of camp. Let me just suggest you pay attention to how Sasha treats the mice.

Chambers is visually stunning. The cinematography is fitting for a thriller, but the colors and editing add a new level of nightmarish images that help the overall tone encapsulate the viewer. Though based in reality, the more Becky takes over Sasha, the more surrealist her experience becomes which is translated through the visual display. As a fan of body horror, I will warn the weak of heart, no pun intended, there are some fantastic instances of gore. These scattered moments might cause some to look away for a minute but it is kept to a minimum in order to enhance rather than take away.

source: Netflix

The strongest element throughout Chambers is the multitude of characters that represent diversity while avoiding tropes. This is due to the incredible performances, with a special shout out to Sivan Alyra Rose, who will have every director hitting up her phone after they see her performance in this show. Because the writing is so detailed, there are a couple weird subplots that were meant for supporting character’s development that take away from Sasha’s arc. There is always the possibility that the show is planning ahead for next season’s episodes, which is unlike some of the more unorganized Netflix originals.

What a DNA Test Won’t Tell You 

Immediately, Chambers outlines the differences between Sasha and the Lefevres, which though the show never outright states this, is due to the racial differences. While Sasha and her uncle, Big Frank (Marcus LaVoi), live in a little messy home right outside the Diné reservation, the Lefevres enjoy a modern mansion with even a room specifically designed for yoga and other spiritual rituals encouraged by the Annex. The money creates an uneven power dynamic with the Lefevre’s as they are willing to provide Sasha with tuition for a private school, a new laptop, and even Becky’s old car. This can be seen as an attempt to fill the new vacancy in their family, however, the Lefevre’s obviously have odd intentions that are fueled by the want to control someone who they believe owes them a relationship. 

Having a Native main character who lives removed from her culture hit me as a Native woman who grew up disconnected from my community. There is a moment in Episode 6, directed by Navajo filmmaker Sydney Freeland, where Sasha is preparing for her boyfriend’s induction ceremony. As she digs through her mother’s things, she tells her best friend, Yvonne (Kyanna Simone Simpson), that she might not know how to be a real Diné woman like TJ’s mom wants but at least she will look like one. When Sasha shows up the next day in her mother’s vintage outfit, all the other attendees are wearing their everyday clothes. “I haven’t seen a traditional dress like that since the ’80s,” another Diné girl says when she walks in. This is a common reality to many Native people, from different tribes, who are returning to their culture and ancestry, and not because of the results of a DNA test. I am not Diné and cannot speak for every Native woman but it is so refreshing to see Sasha, a multifaceted character, grow in her identity.

Representation You Can’t Buy at a Halloween Store

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source: Netflix

Though the ceremony TJ goes through that is described as ‘the biggest day of his life’ is weirdly fictional, the sentiment behind Sasha’s experience among a group of people she is supposed to belong to was hard to watch. The struggle of expectation from the majority of how to appear as a Cherokee Nation citizen effects the way I think about myself, even around others that identify similarly as I do. I am not Diné, and there are over 570 different federally recognized tribes in just the United States, along with multitudes of First Nations in Canada, therefore, I cannot speak for all Native women. I do know there is a lasting consequence of settler colonialism which is why Halloween costumes, athletic mascots, and incorrect media representations are so hurtful to how Natives see themselves. This show is a positive start to an accurate portrayal of Native American characters and story lines that are not set in the historical past.

Chambers is a thrilling drama that should not be the last instance of Native representation in narratives. Despite some minor overwriting, the visuals enhance the psychological drama and a new standard has been set for marginalized storytelling. Of course, this expectation is begging to be exceeded which can only occur with the help of writers, directors, actors, and other artists that represent the culture that is being represented. 

Chambers is available to stream on Netflix.

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