Crimes against Indigenous people, especially Indigenous women, rarely get mainstream attention, a cruel reality of which “Catch the Fair One” is painfully aware.
Crafted by award-winning filmmaker Josef Kubota Wladyka (“Manos Sucias”) and his collaborator and star Kali Reis, herself a biracial Indigenous woman, “Catch the Fair One” is highly personal and extremely intentional in bringing awareness to the crisis of missing Indigenous girls and its link to human trafficking.
Though billed as a thriller, “Catch the Fair One” feels more pressing and urgent than what Hollywood usually produces within this genre. Former championship boxer K.O. (Reis), driven by the marginalization and invisibility imposed by the dominant society, makes the rash and foolhardy decision to go undercover to find her younger sister Weeta (Mainaku Borrero), who has been missing for some time.
Fallen from her former glory and living in a women’s shelter, the assumption is K.O., who has literally held her own with strong men in the ring, is more prepared than most for this rescue mission. But even she has her limitations.
Far removed from Hollywood fantasy or tropes, “Catch the Fair One” is not easy to watch and often feels dire. The world is not very kind to K.O. nor to Indigenous people and others of color. Consequently, a dark cloud of hopelessness hovers over almost every frame. That doesn’t mean there is no joy in these characters’ lives — it just that this particular set of circumstances doesn’t allow for it. One of the few times K.O. is granted a flash of satisfaction is when she is championship-bound, and that moment is a fleeting one that comes full circle in a highly emotional moment in the end. Fortunately, K.O. has a great relationship with her trainer and friend Brick, played by Shelly Vincent, Reis’ real-life close friend.
Reis, in her acting debut, is a captivating lead whose eyes speak volumes. And so does her body. There’s an openness in her presence that serves as a direct window into K.O.’s pain and her struggle. With this performance — for which she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination — Reis knocks down some of the walls that other Indigenous people. Being able to put the viewer into the character’s shoes is a huge win for “Catch the Fair One”; the film’s highly personal feel, Wladyka has revealed, was achieved through roughly four years of collaboration with Reis, who shared stories from her ongoing work as an Indigenous rights activist to help develop the script.
“Catch the Fair One” never glosses over how barbaric and inhumane some men, white men specifically, are allowed to be when they know no one is watching. Regarding K.O.’s missing sister, one of the men closely involved in the trafficking ring point blank tells her that “Nobody’s looking, because nobody cares.” That dark truth is exactly why K.O. takes on this suicidal assignment, never abandoning it even when it becomes more than clear that perhaps she should.
Wladyka meticulously and vitally breaks down the process in which women are kidnapped and trafficked. Key to that is the distance and isolation the perpetrators place between their victims and their known surroundings. In “Catch the Fair One,” K.O. is immediately taken from her familiar turf, a tactic Wladyka emphasizes by having the camera follow K.O. to track her displacement.
Most importantly, “Catch the Fair One” takes that missing person off that piece of paper on the wall and restores their humanity. Weeta is a sister and a daughter, not just a victim, who has people who love and miss her. So her disappearance takes a huge toll on her entire family, particularly creating an even bigger rift between K.O. and their mother. The weight of this tragedy also spurs K.O. to her desperate actions.
In making “Catch the Fair One,” Wladyka and his crew worked with members of the Seneca Nation of Indians in a variety of ways sadly not typical of the industry at large. A biracial filmmaker of Japanese and Polish descent, Wladyka consistently uses his lens in service to humanity. With “Catch the Fair One,” there is no Hollywood happy ending, Wladyka isn’t seeking one, either. His aim is to make a difference, and one hope that with “Catch the Fair One,” another family can avoid losing their Weeta.
“Catch the Fair One” opens in US theaters and on demand Feb. 11.