Let’s get one thing right about Chambers.
It features the first Native woman (Sivan Alyra Rose from the Apache nation) ever to lead a Netflix series. The show is a great example of the body horror genre and has fantastic storylines, but when it comes to Native American representation -- Chambers is simply groundbreaking.
In an interview with Native News Online, Rose said, “The series attempts to show realistic lives of Native Americans. We have a writer who is Native American and Native Americans in casting. I hope we can make some real changes within the next five years in Hollywood for Native Americans.”
It is so rare that we see authentic representation of Native Americans on television and even more rare that Native Americans get the chance to write their own stories. Thus, the first thing you need to know about Chambers is that it’s a win.
The show is a supernatural drama that follows Sasha, a Navajo teenager, as she copes with her recent near-death experience (during her first attempt at losing her virginity, ouch!) and subsequent heart transplant. After getting her new lease on life, Sasha begins to notice things are a little off. She meets the LeFevres, the family of her heart donor, Becky Lefevre. Becky's parents, played by Uma Thurman (fantastically, may I add) and Tony Goldwyn, go HARD trying to connect with Sasha under the pretense of finding closure for their daughter's death. But pretty immediately there are some intense Get Out vibes. Creepy stares. A camera hidden in Becky’s room. The dad being a little too zen. As we learn more about the family, we begin to see the crux of the whole series: the horror of appropriating Native American culture, customs and magic.
The Lefevres, particularly the father, Ben, are deeply involved with a spiritual group (ahem, CULT) called The Southwest Annex Foundation. The group is led by Ruth, a creepily accurate portrayal of a white feminist guru. She speaks in hollow platitudes such as “lead with grace and gratitude” in place of offering real guidance and manipulates her followers to bend to her will. The Lefevres' mansion and the Southwest Annex Foundation HQ are filled with sage, elaborate crystals and beautifully curated ritual spaces. It seems that they believe that these rituals and magical tools stolen from other cultures, particularly Native American, will save them. From what? Immense wealth and depression? Juxtapose this world with the trailer that Sasha and her Uncle Frank live in and the show turns into a biting social commentary.
As time passes, Sasha begins to see flashes of Becky in her mind’s eye and takes on some of her traits, some of which are surprisingly violent. Sasha believes that if she uncovers why and how Becky died, the nagging feeling that Becky still lives inside her will go away. But the more she uncovers, the more Becky embeds herself into Sasha’s soul. The story becomes a spiral of the fight between Becky, the spiteful, sadistic and wealthy white woman and Sasha, an indigenous woman desperately fighting to cling to her roots. In the end, things get way worse before they get better and we see the vicious intersection of cultural appropriation, power and privilege.
Why is this series so successful? For one, as Sivan mentions in her interview, there are Native folks both in the cast and in the writing room making sure that the depiction of indigenous experience and culture is accurate. Additionally, the cinematography takes full advantage of the backdrop of Arizona and uses the dry, barren landscape to add layers of mood and symbolism to every scene. Not to mention the incredible acting from the cast, particularly Sivan Rose and Uma Thurman.
In the end, this dark series asks us to wrestle with the realities and impacts of traditional magic in the wrong hands. Why are crystals, diamonds and gold so coveted? They do hold power. They do hold energy. And when that energy is used haphazardly for possession, greed and evil, it becomes toxic.
Chambers is an expertly woven and chilling tale of how whiteness possesses and colonizes other cultures for selfish gain and, ultimately, destroys its own humanity.
Also, watch this incredible interview Sivan did about Native representation!