Know Your Critic

Know Your Critic: Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk Author, Speaker, and Journalist

Schilling shares why Netflix’s Spirit Rangers made him emotional, the theatrical experiences that have stuck with him, as well as the purpose that’s shaped his career as a critic.

by | November 15, 2022 | Comments

(Photo by Photographer Daniel Boyko; COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2022; Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett; ™ © 2021 Peacock TV LLC, All Rights Reserved (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/Peacock).)

Know Your Critic” is a column in which we interview Tomatometer-approved critics about their screening and reviewing habits, pet peeves, and personal favorites.

Vincent Schilling is an open book. He’s equally energetic about his purpose – centering Native experiences and honoring Indigenous history – as he is about his love of movies and television. And when he gets to speak about the intersection of both, he is truly and clearly in his element.

Schilling is an enrolled member of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe and a veteran. He’s also an advocate who has spoken with governmental, public, and private audiences about inclusion and ways to combat stereotypes against Native Americans. He’s authored several books spotlighting Native athletes, environmentalists, activists, and artists. For more than 15 years, he’s been a journalist contributing places like Indian Country Today, the Smithsonian, the New York Times, and

Amongst his many hats is that of a film and television critic. He’s the founder of, where he publishes reviews of recent releases – including Prey earlier this year.

“I love movies so much. I love television so much, because it’s where we get our education, bottom line,” Schilling said in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes.

“One thing I’m trying to do is bring notice to those films and intelligent things that bring knowledge to Indigenous issues. Because I am Mohawk, I am Native American, so that’s something that I do focus on.”

In speaking with Rotten Tomatoes, Schilling shared memories and family history that influence his love of movies and journalism while spotlighting his favorite things to watch.

Vincent Schilling is a federally enrolled Akwesasne Mohawk. He is the founder and editor of, as well as an author and public speaker. Find him on Twitter and Instagram: @VinceSchilling.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve seen these year?

Spirit Rangers is a brand new, beautiful – I mean it is gorgeous – children’s show on Netflix. It is one of the most beautifully done children’s shows that has elements of Native teachings, Native names.

I will tell you why it’s so beautiful – it’s not just how beautiful it is visually, but because of what it brings to kids today, whether they’re Native or not. When I first started watching it, I grieved for the fact that I didn’t have something like this as a child, as a little Native dude living on Compton Boulevard off of Crenshaw in California. If I would have had a show like this, it would have made a massive difference, because I would have been represented, as opposed to seeing some of the horrifying stereotypes back in the day.

What was your favorite film when you were a child?

[Willy Wonka] and the Chocolate Factory. I was obsessed with that movie, and I watched it every year as it came on television, because I only had nine channels as a kid.

I was absolutely mesmerized by [Willy Wonka] and the Chocolate Factory because I thought of myself as a young kid going into something like that and always dreamed that maybe I would be the one picked. My childhood was tough – tough people around me. My bike was stolen once a week. I was lucky if I had my bike for a week or two.

I would go to the library, and it was just so imaginative and so fun. I absolutely loved it. Gene Wilder is just an incredible, beautiful, beautiful man.

Isn’t he just so charming?

I had a friend tell me one time that, “Oh my gosh, Vince, you would be an incredible Willy Wonka. If there’s any role you could ever play in a film, that would be it.” And I was like, “Wow.” That was the biggest compliment I ever got!

(Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Do you remember the first movie that you saw in a theater?

Wow. I remember a little 99 cent theater that was literally just off Compton Boulevard, maybe two blocks – a little 99 cent theater that me and my brother and sister would go to. And I’d like to think the first film I ever saw was probably The Car, in the ’70s, which scared the ever-living heck out of me.

I didn’t quite get it because I was so little. I’m talking like maybe six or seven. I might have been like eight or nine – I’m not trying to bust my dad.

What’s your favorite memory of watching something in a theater?

One of my favorite memories was, one time I went to the Del Amo Mall. I took the bus out there. I went by myself, and I was a kid who always did things by myself. So I went to the theater and I literally had a couple dollars. And I saw this film, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I fell in love with Harrison Ford – had no idea that he was the same guy in Star Wars – and was just like, “Wow, what an amazing movie.” And I saw it by myself and it was just amazing. I was just fascinated with movies, that something like that could happen in a theater. I dove into this world and never came out.

I also have to give a shout to Poltergeist because I also saw that movie by myself, and that scared me so freaking bad!

That movie is terrifying!

When that guy started ripping his face off and the whole theater was screaming and yelling, I was with them. And then the freaking clown, which scares my wife, Delores. She’s like, “Oh my gosh, the clown. Oh my gosh, the clown.” Whenever we talk about the movie, she goes, “Oh my gosh, the clown.” We always laugh about it.

In addition to being a critic, you’re also an author, a public speaker, an advocate for Native American and First Nations issues. You’ve written multiple books about Indigenous culture-makers, environmentalists, athletes, musicians. What has shaped your career the most? What led you to become the advocate that you are?

Well, my own personal experience. As a Native kid who had zero education about Native issues, I learned about the world – the governmental world of white men, literally – I was told that a room full of white men decided the history of the world, our founding fathers. And after digging deep and learning and doing my own personal research, I found out that there’s a lot more to it than that, folks, friends, and neighbors! I have been doing the best I can to dismantle everything that I’ve been taught incorrectly.

In this experience of what I’ve done as a journalist, I have met again and again and again these incredible movers and shakers of the world. I had an interview with Wayne Newton, “Mr. Las Vegas” himself, who, by the way, is a direct descendant of Pocahontas. A lot of people don’t realize that Pocahontas had children before she was forced to marry John Rolfe. She was forced into that; she had children before that were taken away from her. Her husband was killed, and then she was kidnapped. The daughter was a direct descendent of Wayne Newton. We didn’t learn about that in history!

I’ve taken it, since then, to be my job to do everything I can to dismantle what we’ve been taught, but to build back up with the truth as best as I can.

You made the point earlier that media is how we learn about the world. This may even go back to Spirit Rangers: What were you watching the first time you saw any element of yourself on screen, and what did you relate to about that character or story?

You know what? I don’t even know. It’s so seldom.

My grandmother was a victim of residential/boarding schools. And when I was a baby to about maybe five years old, I’d spent most of my time with my grandmother. She never spoke one word of Mohawk to me, even though she spoke it fluently. She was too terrified because she was taken away forcefully. So I had no Native connection at all – nothing to my culture, to my stories, to anything. I spent my life unaware of who I was, other than I know I’m Mohawk. So, I never really noticed anything, anywhere as a child.

It’s not until I got older and I started working for Indian Country Today, I started working for Native news publications, and I started reaching out to other people and asking questions, because I wanted to learn as well as do stories. But I never, in that entire time, up until about age 40, ever even realized where I could be anywhere on film or television.

I think the first time that it really, really, really hit me like a ton of bricks is with Rutherford Falls and Michael Greyeyes during one scene as Terry Thomas. Terry Thomas was a tribal leader and also the leader of that casino in Rutherford Falls. He talks about being a kid and selling brownies. And the store owner said, “Hey, yeah. You can have a stand outside of my store.” And he sold out all of the brownies. And because the customer was holding onto his money, at the end of the day, gave him five bucks. And I was like, “Oh my God, I get it.” That hit me so hard.

And then Terry Thomas – I don’t remember exactly what he says, so I’m paraphrasing – he says, “I realized I was going to have to work 10 times as hard.” And I was like, “I get it.”

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

That I’ve been able to work and provide for my family by advocating for other Native people, actors, artists, musicians, kids to elders.

(Photo by ©Universal/courtesy Everett)

What is the movie or show that you have watched more than any other?

The Chronicles of Riddick. I drive my wife nuts. My friend makes fun of me.

I just love the movie! It’s just cool! It’s got a terrible score on Rotten Tomatoes.

I was going to ask you what your favorite Rotten thing is… Is this the answer?

Yes, it is the answer. It is my cannon fodder movie. I’ve watched it so many times, and my wife does her eye roll. My best friend Dann is all like, “Oh brother, you and Vin Diesel.” And I said, “No, I just love this movie!”

This is very unexpected!

Well, I really do love action hero movies. Some are terrible, some are great, but this I just loved.

What is your favorite classic film?

The most incredibly awesome classic movie I have watched a gazillion times is The Bellboy by Jerry Lewis.

Jerry Lewis is one of the most influential artists in my life as a film lover, critic, and media creator. A lot of people don’t realize the innovation Jerry Lewis introduced to the film industry to include the film crew position known as “Video Assist,” a job I once held on a film crew in Wilmington, NC for Screen Gems. In his creative film days – as an actor and director – Jerry Lewis once strapped a video monitor to his film camera so he could watch scenes immediately as they were shot. Today, the position of Video Assist is considered a must-have in the world of film. Video Assist is a crew position that many people in the industry have no idea Jerry Lewis instituted.

As far as a classic film, The Bellboy is a flawless example of humor in its purest form, and I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed my head off at this movie.

What is a movie or TV series that always makes you laugh? Or if you would prefer, the most recent movie that made you cry?

I know there’s something I’ve seen recently that I made me cry my eyeballs out… Probably Halloween Ends because it was so crappy. (laughs) It was terrible!

(Photo by REEL INJUN, from left: Neil Diamond, Robbie Robertson, 2009. ©Domino Films Distribution/Courtesy Everett Collection)

What do you consider required viewing? And that can be for critics or for general audiences.

I would say Neil Diamond‘s Reel Injun. That is absolutely required viewing as a documentary.

And another one is Our Spirits Don’t Speak English by Rich-Heap [Films]. Two amazing Native themed films that really open your eyes massively.

Who are Native journalists, critics or thinkers that everyone should have on their radars?

There’s one, her name is Johnnie Jae (@johnniejae on Instagram and Twitter). I love her website, A Tribe Called Geek.

Who is an under-the-radar director, screenwriter, or actor that you think more people should know about?

Joey Clift (@joeytainment on Twitter, @joeycliiiiiift on Instagram). He is a comedian; he’s a writer for Nickelodeon, he’s done kids shows. And he’s one of the producers and writers behind Spirit Rangers. We’re going to continue to see fantastic things from him, believe me.

What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about critics?

It’s that everything they say is correct. You are allowed to like a film that a critic doesn’t.

Sometimes critics take themselves a little too seriously. And I think we need to have a little more joy. Critics are not the know-all, be-all, tell-all. Critics can be wrong, too!

That’s part of the job, right?

Not to say that everything we say is wrong, but there is that possibility. Some things I love, some people hate. I mean, biggest example, Chronicles of Riddick. A lot of people hate that movie! I love it.

It starts a conversation!

Exactly. And I’ve had people tell me on social media, “No, you’re wrong. Blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Okay, great.” I like to hear that I’m wrong.

What, for you, makes a “good movie”?

This may sound silly, but I think filmmakers undervalue just how important good sound is. That to me is the biggest indication immediately between professional and struggling. The difference between “good” and “great” is detail.

Vincent Schilling is a federally enrolled Akwesasne Mohawk. He is the founder and editor of, as well as an author and public speaker. Find him on Twitter and Instagram: @VinceSchilling.