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Review: Rhymes for Young Ghouls (Non-Spoiler)

Tale of survival, scars, & art through voice of courageous aboriginal girl

By Alex Torres

“If you’re good at one thing, apply it to everything. You can turn anything into an art form.” – Aila

This month is Native American Heritage Month, and to celebrate, KU is holding an Indigenous Film Festival. The final movie playing is Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013), which will air Friday, Nov. 11. 

This tale centers around a 16-year-old girl, Aila (K. Devery Jacobs), struggling to survive in a Canadian town trapped by the heinous law of The Indian Act, which decrees that every able-bodied child between the age of five and 16 must attend its Indian Residential School.

Throughout the film, Aila and her community try to survive the harsh treatment of brutal Indian Agents, including their leader, Popper (Mark Antony Krupa), while battling the inner demons that have scarred her since childhood. Jacobs delivers a powerful performance of how her protagonist’s artistic creativity, her family’s stories and boundless courage help her break free of the guilt and grief she carried and, in addition, round up her hero posse to take back what Popper stole from her. 

This film also adds gruesome depictions of many people of Indigenous descent who have been mistreated by their government’s laws and its enforcers to this day.

Art and storytelling become characters on their own in this movie, mostly through Aila’s artistic work that she learned from her mother. It comforts and empowers her to take back what’s rightfully hers and her community’s. The storytelling that plays out in this film is also incredibly insightful and influential to Aila’s arc, from Ceres’s (Katherine Sorbey) visually dark tale of The Wolf and The Mushroom to the story of her grandfather told by Gisigu (Stewart Myiow), who helps bring her closer to her estranged father. 

Art and storytelling come hand in hand when the film’s narration is told by this dauntless heroine who navigates the audience through her community’s hardships and healing. The overall theme of this film is how the power of art and storytelling can shape our present and save our future.

If you love a strong heroine, eye-catching visuals and heart-grippingly powerful art and storytelling, then this is the movie you have to see on the final day of Indigenous Film Festival week.

(WARNING! This film contains some depictions of nudity, assault, violence, foul language and death that maybe too intense for young viewers and triggering for people with mental health disorders.)

“Sometimes courage, Aila, just means gritting your teeth and moving forward, not paying attention to the consequences.” – Gisigu