This Video Essay Was Not Built on an Ancient Indian Burial Ground

Far too few video essays use the possibilities that a performative style offers. Such an approach can make videos more accessible and entertaining, yet also more artistically challenging and stylistically diverse. In academic circles, examples of the performative mode are extremely rare. With YouTube video essay makers, the performative aspect is most often limited to the vocal delivery of the voice over. (Although there are great examples of creative, off-the-wall video essay channels in the French speaking world).


This video essay is therefore a welcome change. It is the brainchild of Ariel Smith: a video artist, writer and cultural worker of Nêhiyaw and Jewish heritage. As the video’s on-screen presenter, she takes on a playful, even cheeky persona that is in line with its subject matter. But make no mistake. Behind its exuberant set design and costuming, there is a great piece of audiovisual criticism.


Its full title (This Video Essay Was Not Built on an Ancient Indian Burial Ground) is tongue-in-cheek, but its takedown of Hollywood horror movies and their visual representation of Indigenous peoples is astute and comprehensive. Absolutely fascinating are the many examples Ariel Smith provides of  Indigenous filmmakers wo have used the horror genre to critique the genocidal nation building that came with colonization. In addition to this video, Smith wrote an essay elaborating on its themes that was published online by Offscreen.