Set in the year 2043, Night Raiders takes place in a world where disenfranchised cities in post-war North America are controlled by a maniacal military organization called The Emerson Group. Under their regime, children are considered property of the State and forced into their children’s academy. Having been on the run for years, Niska (Elle-Maija Tailfeathers) and her 11-year-old daughter, Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) have managed to stay under the radar by keeping a low profile. However, after Waseese is captured by The Emerson Group, Niska connects with an underground band of vigilantes and joins in their plot to infiltrate the facility and free her daughter.
Written and directed by Danis Goulet, Night Raiders is a sci-fi film with a historical edge. Co-produced by Taika Waititi, there’s a fire to this film that demands attention. Sharply written and executed, Raiders is an entertaining thrill ride from start to finish. More importantly though, Goulet brings a unique voice into the science fiction genre that allows her to tackle Indigenous stories in a way that connects with everyone. Though its set in the world of sci-fi, Night Raiders still resonates with the real world. Goulet has created a tale that maintains a certain distance from its subject matter yet still feels powerful and poignant. Intense and engaging, Goulet creates a compelling metaphor for the pain of a people group that have often been silenced and ignored. As such, despite the fact that it takes place 20 years into the future, its themes feel current and important in today’s cultural conversations surrounding the history of Indigenous peoples.
Though its set in the world of sci-fi, Night Raiders still resonates with the real world. Intense and engaging, Goulet creates a compelling piece that expresses the pain of a people group that have often been silenced and ignored. As a metaphor for the poisonous environment of residential schools and their effect on the Indigenous communities, Raiders leans into the concept of erasure. With an emphasis on controlling the population, the Emerson Group longs to build a country built on the backs of sameness. As captives, children are indoctrinated into a neutralized culture. Dressing their children in gray tones and keeping them in white cages, Emerson brainwashes their conscripted children with phrasing of dedication to the cause. Colour is eliminated wherever possible with the hope of creating the sense of a unified society. As their indoctrination takes hold, the memories and livelihoods of these children are erased at the hands of the Emerson psychological machine. Similar to the leadership which tormented the children of residential schools, the Emerson Group is concerned only with eliminating differences for the sake of their own ideologies. (It’s also worth noting that everyone who represents Emerson is white while children and families who are subject to their cruelty are all visible minorities.)
With an eye on history, Raiders also very much looks towards the present and the future by speaking into the challenges of breaking free. Although Niska is challenged to step up and take command, her years of oppression keep her under a blanket of fear. Having been stuck under the weight of the Emerson tyranny for so long, she is reluctant to join in the fight against them. Although she yearns for her daughter’s freedom, she believes that the revolution is not her battle. (After all, what can she do about it?) In this way, Niska’s struggle mirrors our current culture as Indigenous populations are being called to step forward and share their stories of suffering. With every traumatic tale that is told, the truth about systemic oppression continues to come to light, allowing for change. However, this bearing of souls is always a challenge, especially after years of psychological oppression. As such, Niska’s journey also resonates at a time when the Indigenous population has finally found the courage to speak out against those that have hurt them in the past.
At the same time, Goulet also demonstrates what’s at stake when she highlights the power of the children themselves. Whereas adults have the opportunity to fight the today’s battles, Raiders acknowledges that their struggle will allow the next generation to have a greater understanding of justice and equity for the future. Although the children require rescue at the hands of the Emerson Group, the film also points to the fact that there is a strength within them that bodes well for future generations. As a result, Goulet balances Raiders with dual perspectives by examining the importance of both an adult awakening and children uprising.
For Goulet, both generations are needed because both voices matter.
Night Raiders premiered at TIFF and is available in theatres on Friday, October 8th, 2021.