Movie Review: Big Crow

Big Crow
Director: Kris Kaczor
Writer: Inila Wakan
Producer: Kevin Bayson
Cinematography: Matt Lyons
Editor: Steve Nemsic
Rated: 4 Stars (8 stars on IMDB)
Review by: Astilbe

BIG CROW is a verité-style documentary that tells the story of how young Lakota basketball star SuAnne Big Crow became an activist, and how her message of hope continues to help her people reclaim their culture 30 years after her death. Part biography and part social commentary, BIG CROW is a story about the power of hope in the most destitute place in America, South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Found in the poorest county in America, Pine Ridge is plagued by rampant drug, alcohol, and sexual abuse which drives the highest teen suicide rate in the country. Access to healthy food and health care is virtually non-existent, and the Lakota there continue to experience the oppressive racism that outlawed their religion, language, and traditions 130 years ago. It’s possible that there has never been a people more in need of a hero than SuAnne’s Lakota tribe.

By age 14, SuAnne Big Crow had become one of South Dakota’s best basketball players, leading her Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes to become the first ever Native American state champions. By age 17, her social activism had made her a household name across the Great Plains. Thirty years after her tragic death, SuAnne’s pride in her people continues to galvanize the Lakota in their fight to save their language and reclaim their culture.

Heroes live in every community.

It was wonderful to explore modern Lakota culture in Pine Ridge. I must confess that I didn’t know a lot about this topic before I watched this documentary, so I appreciated how much effort was put into sharing not only the struggles of this tribe but also their triumphs as well. Everything was balanced out nicely, and it made me want to dive even more deeply into this topic. There were so many things about their culture that didn’t quite fit into the scope of this film but that I yearned to learn more about. To me, that is a sign of a job well done, indeed!

As much as I loved seeing how SuAnne’s legacy has positively impacted her tribe for more than thirty years now, I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to who she was as a person before she died. Her time on the basketball court was documented beautifully, but I didn’t get as much of a sense of who she was in other areas of her life. For example, she seemed to be an outgoing person who had a fantastic sense of humor, but it would have been helpful to have more stories about how she behaved and why she was so obviously adored by everyone who knew her.

One of the most difficult aspects of living through a tragedy can be finding meaning in pain and grief that feels meaningless. SuAnne’s family, friends, and community found so many incredible ways to honor her memory and continue her work to improve life for everyone in their tribe. Without giving away too many spoilers, they have excelled at remembering SuAnne and encouraging the next generation to follow her example. I especially enjoyed the last ten minutes or so that showed how far her influence has spread and how much of a difference she’s still making in the lives of people who weren’t even born yet when she was alive.

Big Crow was a tear-jerker and a fabulous exploration of a portion of modern history I knew nothing about.