Brian Young '18 Finds New Voice in New York Times Documentary

BY Corinne Lestch, October 6, 2017

When current writing student Brian Young ’18 was asked to help direct and feature in a New York Times op-doc, he saw it as an opportunity for his culture to be accurately represented.


The documentary, A Conversation With Native Americans on Race, features several native voices and perspectives that challenge standardized notions of what it means to be young and indigenous in America.


“Most projects concerning indigenous topics and communities come from an exterior perspective,” Young said in an interview. “Basically, a non-native individual is the one directing and producing. That exterior perspective can often skew the views and voices of the indigenous individuals to suit a narrative that fits well with stereotypical representations.”


Young, who is Navajo, initially was going to be the one to “corral all the voices” and search for interview subjects. Then, Rada Film Group extended him an opportunity to co-direct the documentary along with filmmaker Michèle Stephenson. The two took turns interviewing the subjects, with whom Young had cultivated relationships.


“It was truly an unexpected opportunity, and I jumped at it,” said Young, who is also involved in native communities in and out of Columbia.


He was also surprised by the deeply personal turn many of the interviews took. Topics centered on not feeling “native enough” and the challenges that come with maintaining indigenous identities in urban areas.


“I believe having had previous friendship or camaraderie allowed the interview session to go to some really personal and touching depths,” Young said. “In many ways it was very much a learning experience for me as well.”


Though Young started as a filmmaker before turning to fiction, the content of the op-doc ties into Young’s obsessions and interests as a writer.


“In some ways, I am always searching for a different way of expressing my Native identity,” he said.


“I'm discovering that each medium has different ways of delving into the psyche and emotions of individuals,” he continued. “I always wind up writing about Native themes and story that deal with my tribe and my experiences of being a part of that community.”