Apache Skateboard’s Doug Miles brings his art and activism to the screen

More than a decade ago — shortly after Milestone released The Exiles, the great independent documentary about the lives of Native Americans in Los Angeles in the late 1950s — we received an amazing email from an artist living and working on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

Doug Miles instantly became a friend — and one of our heroes. Doug wanted us to know that he was creating art inspired by the film. As Doug described in a 2008 press release:

The stark vision of director Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles serves as the template for the (often misunderstood) stark artistic vision(s) of Douglas Miles as he re-creates scenes from the long-awaited critically acclaimed film, The Exiles As The Exiles film experiences a limited release and renaissance, Douglas Miles/Apache Skateboards teams up with The Exiles producers to promote its singular filmic vision of hard times in the land of plenty.

A film ahead of its time, The Exiles (1958-61) captures in gritty film noir tradition, the story of Native Americans in Los Angeles’s Bunker Hill District as they struggle to make a life for themselves during the B.I.A.’s “relocation period.” This was the B.I.A.’s last major attempt at forced integration of Native people into American society.

Using spray paint, exacto knives and found objects, film stills from The Exiles film come to life via Douglas Miles’s singular vision. His guerrilla art method provides the backdrop for the collision of two work of art/artists exploring the so-called native experience. A perfect combination. The results being a one-two punch that builds interest and respect for The Exiles film, director, music, and cast.  

And when Doug learned that we had tried hard but unsuccessfully to locate the lone surviving cast member from the film, he took up the quest, going door to door on the San Carlos Reservation until he found someone who had contact information for Yvonne Williams. Thanks to his efforts, we were able to tell her that the film was opening around the country and to send DVDs for herself and her family. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Over the years, we have stayed in contact and watched his art and activism grow. This year, he has collaborated with filmmaker Audrey Buchanan to create a powerful and moving short film The Mystery of Now about the meaning and mission of Apache Skateboards and the community it represents and serves. National Geographic chose the film as an official selection for its Short Film Showcase. We are honored that Doug has allowed us to share the film here:

Doug also sent us a wonderful interview in which he talks about his commitment to art activism.

Why is this film so important from a visibility perspective?

It’s no mystery that the history of Native American people in this country has been overlooked, misrepresented, and maligned to create a more heroic narrative for settlers, to sell books, land, and movie tickets.

This film pushes back at the invisibility that plagues Native people working in the arts and their communities. In the middle of this cultural clash of stereotypes and battles for agency, one thing that has never ceased, is Native creativity in the making of art. Simply stated, Native art is the voice of Native people. In our creativity, we recreate ourselves and in doing so, we create our world.

The current population of San Carlos, Arizona is about 14,000. The poverty level hovers about about 60% in this eastern Arizona town. For some (not all) Indian Nations, this is typical. In spite of this, what Apache Skateboards has done in its 17-year journey of creativity and skateboarding is nothing short of amazing.

What makes your skateboard brand unique?

Apache Skateboards started out as a father, making art for his son, but since then has grown into a movement sparking interest in skateboarding across Native communities for over 15 years. 

The art I designed for Apache Skateboards paired young skaters with historical imagery encouraging them to remember Native heroes of the past, while in the present, utilizing skateboarding as a conduit for Native pride.

What's the message you want viewers to walk away with?

“Apache Skateboards is the power of the past, the key to the future and the mystery of now.” With this short phrase I wanted to encapsulate what the Apache Skateboard brand/movement means, where it’s at and where it’s going. “The power of the past” refers to the history of Apache people, their struggle and victories over historical oppression. “The key to the future” refers to the skate-team itself and the young people that work with Apache Skateboards. They are the “key” to the future of our community. “The mystery of now” refers to our everyday destiny and the blessing of our lives in creating art, fun, and joy together. I felt if I could create art, kids could use it and it would change the way we not only looked at art, but it would change the way we looked at our community, how we interacted with the world and how we viewed ourselves. I think together we’ve succeeded.