Bad Press: “The over 1000-day fight for free press in Muscogee Nation”

OklahomaEventsPoliticsCommunity ArtEntertainmentIndigenous
Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 01/23/2023, 3:27 AM
Edited: 06/01/2024, 1:51 PM
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(MUSCOGEE NATION) Citizens of the Muscogee Creek Nation now have the opportunity to watch the story of their free press victory on the big screen, following Sunday's sold-out premiere of “Bad Press” at the Sundance Film Festival. 

The documentary was directed by Muscogee Creek citizen Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, executive director of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and former Mvskoke Media journalist, and Joe Peeler, a documentary editor and director whose work has appeared on Netflix, HBO, and FX. 

Filming for "Bad Press" began in 2019.

“We start following the fight for free press in Muscogee Creek Nation after it was repealed in 2018 in the midst of an election season,” Landsberry-Baker said during a recent episode of “Live Wire” hosted by Jerrad Moore, who also appears in the film. “So that’s really where our story begins.”

“Bad Press” follows Mvskoke Media News Director Angel Ellis and her newsroom’s mission to secure the strongest constitutionally guaranteed tribal press freedom in history.

Peeler described the filming as a “whirlwind experience”, saying he was hooked by Ellis’s passion for journalism.

“Without free press you have to become an advocate,” Peeler said. “You can’t stay unbiased. You have to fight for this thing to be able to just simply do your job. You have to fight for the bare bones minimum to be able to be unbiased. And I think seeing that on-screen is very important.”

Related story: Muscogee citizens to vote on free press amendment this September

Ellis said having a documentary crew following them around was kind of scary at first, where she worked and even in her house, but having the camera pointed at her was worth it to tell the story.  

“There were times when they were filming us having reactions to very important things that happened,” Ellis said. “And it was not anything that we had any chance to compose ourselves for or anything. It was live, living color. And basically you see who we really are as people.”

Ellis said she loved the title “Bad Press” from the beginning.

“That really resonated with me because I’ve spent, like, 15 years, almost, being a journalist and I think the perception of the outside world right now is that we’re all kind of bad or having our own agendas,” Ellis said.  

“You’re not here to make friends, you’re not here to be… this is survival,” Ellis said. “And healing. And telling our stories.” 

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Landsberry-Baker said it has been refreshing to witness the interest in their free press issue outside of the journalism community.

“It can be very isolating,” Landsberry-Baker said. “So, I think to be able to, like, share this experience and all the humanity they’ve talked about and the ways that you’re dealing with these huge issues and, like, letting a camera crew into that. You know, showing how you’re dealing with those and being very real with your reactions to these situations, these big developments that happen in our story, is so exciting for me as a member of the community to share that with the world.”

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival began Thursday and goes until January 29.

You can purchase both in-person and online tickets here. Single film online tickets are $20 each. 

Landsberry-Baker said plans to bring community screenings of “Bad Press” to the reservation are also in the works. 

Correction: This story originally reported Muscogee Nation was the first tribe to constitutionally guarantee free press. In fact, the Navajo, Cherokee, and Osage Tribes offer various levels of constitutionally guaranteed press freedom at the time of this writing. 

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