Peshawn Bread & Mistress Red

Comanche screenwriter, director, and fashion creative Peshawn Bread makes her directorial debut with a complex and brilliant film about sexuality and humorous experiences.
Peshawn Bread
Photo by Karalyn Radford

Essentially, Peshawn Bread’s “The Daily Life of Mistress Red” took almost ten years to bring to life. The emerging director’s first few submissions to Sundance’s Native Filmmakers Lab Fellowship were rejected, which inspired the two-time Sundance alum to passionately pen a story about a Native blogger who finds out her role model is a dominatrix for hire. “The Daily Life of Mistress Red” is a mockumentary that explores the world of kink, the power of Native women, and defeating white supremacy. The film’s lead character Marie Callingbird is a Native fashion boutique owner by day but dominatrix-for-hire Mistress Red by night. Marie takes the effects of racism, sexism, and colonization into her own hands by educating white supremacists through pleasure. 

The short, 10-minute film is packed with entertainment, education, and humor. It features Native art, culture, and fashion alongside topics that many Native communities have issues addressing, even considering shameful: BDSM, sex, and sex work. Unfortunately, the taboo of sexuality in Native communities is still prevalent, including homophobia and transphobia, which Peshawn hopes to tackle with “The Daily Life of Mistress Red.” Peshawn enlighteningly addresses things like interracial dating, LGBTQ+ relationships, and slut-shaming, to name a few, all in a brilliant manner. There are even mentions of sexual acceptance and empowerment. Considering this is Peshawn’s directorial debut, Peshawn is primed to be the sharp, stylish, and successful Indigenous queer filmmaker the world needs.

Peshawn Bread
Photo by Karalyn Radford

Thank you for joining us! Please share with us a bit of yourself.

Haa Maurwee, my name is Peshawn Bread, and I’m a filmmaker creative director from the Penatʉkʉ (sugar eater) and Yapurʉka (root eater) bands of the Comanche Nation. I love creating stories that center around Indigenous women, themes of sexuality, and coming-of-age stories. I graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco with a BFA in Screenwriting in 2020. I currently live in Albuquerque, NM, with my partner and my wild tabby cat Louis.

You’re also a well-known fashion creative. What fashion endeavors have you done? 

Fashion has had a massive part in my life and has been another creative outlet for me. Aside from modeling, I’m now a creative director and stylist! I work with Teton Trade Cloth as their Creative Director, and I style all the shoots for them. Lately, I’ve been working with different designers to help create direct campaigns and photoshoots. As well as working in collaboration with brands to bring in Indigenous creatives, with my fashion endeavors I do my best to bring in an array of representation and bring in Indigenous models, designers, and talent.

What inspired you to pursue filmmaking? Did you work with any Native filmmakers starting? 

I’ve always been interested in filmmaking. I used to watch a lot of dramas and romance movies with my mother. She was a single mom raising three kids and Friday nights were our Blockbuster nights! She would ask us to pick two movies, and she would pick a movie for herself. I loved sneaking into her room or the living room past my bedtime to see what she would choose. I loved the intensity of the emotions the actors portrayed, the cinematography, and the use of color in all the films she watched! I knew I wanted to be a part of it when I was a kid. I started working on short film sets with Native filmmakers when I was in high school. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to work with Sydney Freeland on her first feature, “Drunktown’s Finest,” as her assistant! Her film helped me cultivate my love for filmmaking. I loved being on set and seeing so much creativity come together.

Peshawn Bread
Photo by Karalyn Radford

You are widely known throughout Indian Country as a stunning fashion model; now, you are stunning the world as a film director and screenwriter with your film “The Daily Life of Mistress Red”. How are you feeling right now, and how are you making a statement with your directorial debut?

I feel ecstatic and, in less good ways, to put it, “shook”! Positively, though! I think that I’ve been waiting to find the perfect story to tell. I’ve been writing for years, and when the energy of this story hit me, it told me, “to write…write…write” until it left my mind. This story isn’t about me or for me; it’s for everyone who hasn’t had the space to feel their sexual liberties and is looking to accept those things about them. 

The statement I’d like to put out as a director is the following: I’d like to make stories for those in our communities who never felt like they fit in, who were comforted by films and are looking for a media that they could feel seen in. My films are for the Indigenous nerds, whether you’re into fashion, BDSM, comic con, or just like to nerd out about subliminal messages in films.

You’re a recipient of Sundance’s Native Filmmakers Lab Fellowship. Explain your journey of applying for the program and working with Sundance.

My journey with Sundance goes back to 2012 when I joined their screenwriter’s lab in Santa Fe. Then I was introduced as a Kellogg- Full Circle Fellow in 2014, where I had the chance to learn about the festival, what it’s like to get into filmmaking and how to become a filmmaker. When I heard of the Native Filmmaker’s Lab, I made it a goal to apply to it. It was my first year in college, and my first story was a 15-page period drama about my mother being raised by her grandparents in Oklahoma and encountering racism. I had submitted it to the program, and they liked it, so I advanced to the next tier: making a mood board, budgeting, picking a scene to workshop, and creating storyboards for the scene. I made it to the top four, but I wasn’t a recipient that year. I felt defeated but motivated to get it again, so I applied the following year with a story highlighting MMIW [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women]; a Mom driving back from a powwow with her children stops at an abandoned gas station and is faced with the choice to save a Native woman seeking help or to continue along her trip. The story made it to the top four again but wasn’t selected. I took the next year off from applying, but in 2019 I wrote “The Daily Life of Mistress Red” and thought, “They probably won’t like this at all, but I’m going to do it because I love it!”

Peshawn Bread
Photo by Karalyn Radford

“The Daily Life of Mistress Red” dominated the Indigenous team; they loved it, and I made it to the top four again. They called me one more time and finally asked, “Would you like to join us in Santa Fe for the Filmmakers Lab?”. At first, I thought I didn’t make it and that they just wanted my company there, but Bird Runningwater said, “You’re a fellow!” I kept my composure on the phone but cried as soon as I hung up the phone! I workshopped my scene in Santa Fe and learned from mentors such as Jennifer Reeder (“Knives and Skins”, 2019), Gregory Nava (“Selena”, 1997), Shaz Bennett, and Sally Fields!

In your very own words, what is “The Daily Life of Mistress Red” about?

“The Daily Life of Mistress Red” is about a Native blogger named Taylor who finds out her role model is a dominatrix for hire. The story is about her accepting Mistress Red and accepting her very own sexuality and being sexual. It’s a story about many things, but it depends on which character you feel closest to. I think everyone can relate to Taylor the most because we were Taylor at some point in our lives.

Peshawn Bread
Photo by Karalyn Radford

“The Daily Life of Mistress Red” is a unique story. What is the inspiration behind “The Daily Life of Mistress Red”?

The inspiration for “The Daily Life of Mistress Red” came from many places. It came from my love of my culture and BDSM and my anger at how Indigenous women are treated these days and at the time, in the era of Trump. It came from my love for the BDSM community and how the dominatrixes I knew were taking on white clients and whipping apologies out of them! It came from a deep place of vulnerability. The inspiration also came from my sexual journey and dealing with trauma. Throughout the pain I felt writing this, I thought of who I wanted to see in media and what position I wanted to put Indigenous women in. It hurts when I see filmmakers putting Indigenous women and LGBTQ+ characters into situations where they get abused, raped, or killed. Why do I need to see violence on a screen? I know it happens every day and has happened to me. In a media that allows you to create your word, why continue putting Native women through pain?

I want people to look at “The Daily Life of Mistress Red” and know that we have someone on screen who controls everything in her world and laughs along with this crazy story. The inspiration to do a mockumentary came from my favorite movie, “What We do in the Shadows” by Taika Waititi. I’ve always loved comedy and tend to be “the funny one” in the family, so I thought, “why not change the narrative a bit in film and make a mockumentary about BDSM”? I also noticed in Indian Country that many people like to make jokes about things that hurt them, whether they’re heartbroken or experienced a mishap; Native people use laughter as medicine, and I do my best to hold that close!

A lot of inspiration for my stories comes from visuals, as I love stimulating myself with mood boards. For this film, it was pin-up model Bettie Page, fashion by CreepyYeha, American drag queen and burlesque/aerial performer Violet Chachki, and pin-up art from artists Ruttu [IG: @ruttu_ruttu] and Sveta Shubina [IG: @sveta_has], and of course, my love for Indigenous fashion and art.

What was it like working on the film? From casting to post-production?

I’d have to take up the whole magazine to talk about this! It was a beautiful kinky journey. It was embraced with love but also brought up anger within the community. I had an online casting call and shared it on Facebook and Instagram in hopes of receiving hundreds of auditions, but I only received a few for Mistress Red. However, I did receive more for the vlogger character Taylor. For Mistress Red, I picked Jennifer Rader. She’s a very talented actress who was positive about taking on such a role. I also cast Tyra Blackwater for the vlogger character, who fits all of Taylor’s traits. She’s active in her community as an activist and works with Indigenous goddess gang.

Then came the duty of set decorating. I had help from my friend and editor Roberto Fatal, who gathered props from the Bay Area’s BDSM community. I had fifty pounds of gear and toys in my TSA-Checked bag, and I had to write “Caution! Sex Toys! Please wear gloves when handling” on a piece of cardboard inside the bag. It was a crazy trip to Santa Fe where we rented a house via Airbnb to shoot in for two days. Since we had a whole house to shoot, it meant that we had an entire house to decorate with Native art and a walk-in closet to fill with props and Native-designed clothing. My mother lent some works and as well as artists Carmen Selam (Comanche/Yakima), Brent Learned (Cheyenne-Arapaho), Cody Sanderson (Navajo), and Cara Romero (Chemehuevi). I wanted the set design to be all Indigenous, so you see Indigenous art from paintings, clothing, jewelry, and sculpture in every shot!

The Airbnb was perfect for shooting as well as a hotel for some of the crew. We shot on the weekend and had a crew who came from Oklahoma and Arizona. My cinematographer Sunrise Tippeconnie arrived in a van filled with equipment and camera gear. We haven’t worked together before, but it felt like magic when the two of us worked on “The Daily Life of Mistress Red”. We both understood each other well and were able to work out scenes together.

Production was tedious, and it took an incredible team to pull off an intimate story that required so much vulnerability on set. My directing style tends to be heavily rooted in trust. In BDSM, you usually use a safe word when things get too intense and you need your partner to stop. With this in mind, my actress Jennifer and I came up with a safe word we told the crew before we started shooting. I made it clear that if the safe word was ever used, the camera would stop rolling, and all crew in the area would have to leave. The safe word was never used throughout all of our scenes, and I felt proud that Jen felt safe.

Now I’m in post-production with editing and putting all the finishing touches to the final cut. I’m working on a Kickstarter campaign and will be raising funds to help complete the film.

Peshawn Bread
Photo by Karalyn Radford

Your film features a Native pro-domme [professional dominatrix]. How does the lead character and film exude empowerment, confidence, and beauty?

Marie, or Mistress Red is everything I wish I had as a young adult. She is strong, understanding, and takes her sexuality into her own hands. She exudes her confidence.

Were you able to apply any bit of your experience as a model to your role as a director, or vice versa? 

My experience in filmmaking actually helped me out as a model. Filmmaking in high school helped me out with modeling because on set; you see how a director treats the actors and its take after take, so the actors have to get themselves into a certain mode to perform and keep going into emotions. Whether it’s an emotional scene and delving deep into those emotions and continuing after they say, “take,” then rush back into it. I was also really into cinematography, so learning a camera was helpful with my modeling because I would know where to look and how to pace it. If someone were doing rapid-fire shots, I’d have to keep continuously moving while being kind of in my mode or be a character for the picture. If a photographer were directing me, I would take that direction and do what I could to give them what they wanted for the shot.

Of course, directing my first ever film, I took as much as I learned and brought it into this production since this was my first film and it’s about kink. That’s a massive risk in terms of trust. It takes a lot of trust to bring people into this and create a space where people can safely feel that they can be their whole sexual selves or be a part of the BDSM community. I took the time to talk to the actors, especially the lead actress, to get to know her and create that space. I treated my actors like I would like to be treated on set as a model, with respect and kindness. 

Peshawn Bread
Photo by Karalyn Radford

What bold artistic choices have you made for the film? How do you use them to make your mark on the thriving Native entertainment scene?

My bold artistic choice would be making this film in a mockumentary style. I feel healing through humor, and I learned that by just existing as an Indigenous person. I learned to take the pain and make it something to smile through and create a relatable story that doesn’t cause harm but carries healing. Laughter is medicine, and I feel that narrative is stolen from Indigenous peoples. I hope my artistic choices of goofy premises and dialogues can be understood throughout Indian Country, even quoted someday. The Native entertainment scene has many wonderful comedies such as Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls these days, and I hope to take this idea and universe to more powerful platforms.

What was your favorite part about making this “The Daily Life of Mistress Red”?

Collaborating with so many Indigenous creatives who took this story as their own and worked hard to make it a reality. I loved being on set and seeing everyone get excited about the BDSM props or be so supportive with each other.

How different was the film from what you originally envisioned it being like to how it eventually turned out?

So the film started off being more focused on Marie, AKA Mistress Red, as a fashion icon with her having a physical boutique and a fashion line while showing the world of Native fashion, but that was cut out due to the budget. Of course, finding the soul of the story, which is the center and what the story is really about, wasn’t a film about Native fashion; it was a film about sexuality, BDSM, and sex work and with having those prejudices within Indian Country and coming to terms with what it is to accept sexuality and sex work.

And this allowed you to focus on your story. 

Right. After workshopping a monologue by Mistress Red, I realized this was what I wanted to capitalize the story on. It wasn’t Mistress Red’s story, but blogger Taylor’s as well. She’s coming to terms with entering this new world of sex work and pro-domming as someone who’s not comfortable within her own body. So it went from a fifteen-page script to a ten-minute short film.

How does your film enlighteningly address sexuality? Also, how is it liberating? In contrast, how does it tackle the taboo of sexuality in Native communities?

This film shines a light on things I’ve never had conversations with a Native family member about sex, how to be comfortable in your skin, and how to have sexual power of yourself. Sex work is the most important topic, and people are still judgmental of Native women being empowered through sex or doing sex work. Native sex workers deserve respect no matter what. Doing sex work doesn’t mean anything about someone’s character and doesn’t make them less Indigenous. Although we’re in a new era of social media spreading awareness, there’s still a stigma around sex work and sexually explicit content creators. There’s still shame projected onto each other, and with this film, I hope it brings a sense of understanding and respect that everyone can give sex workers. Not all Indigenous women find sex work empowering, and that’s okay. What’s empowering is supporting one another no matter what and creating a safe space to practice liberties in.

The taboo of sexuality in Native communities is still prevalent. We see it through small aggressions such as someone telling us to hide skin when male relatives enter the room or when we see our relatives “slut-shame” someone wearing a short skirt. Sexuality is a spectrum of whether it’s loving someone of the same gender, opposite gender, or embracing your preferences. It’s time to educate and to tell young girls to be themselves and embrace every part instead of having them conform to what colonized societies led us to believe about the way we carry ourselves.

A still from 'The Daily Life of Mistress Red'
A still from ‘The Daily Life of Mistress Red’

What other issues does your film combat?

With this film, I wanted to touch on so many things. Most people don’t think about interracial dating and LGBTQ+ or lesbian relationships, which is what Mistress Red and her partner are in this film. It’s an interracial, lesbian relationship. I wanted to show this film with slut-shaming, but in microaggressions, which means someone not directly saying you’re a slut but being very judgmental. The lead character Taylor is conducting the interview, and as she’s getting all the information, she is so unaware of kink, sex work, the world of sex, and the world of explicit content. She becomes very judgmental towards Mistress Red and gives her some lip at some point. I wanted to address slut-shaming and where that kind of aggression comes from, which originates from not being secure within yourself.

Many directors have their signature directorial “tones” or “styles” they’re known for that make their works stand out. What do you hope yours will be?

In my filmmaking, I hope people will pick out my films by seeing my stylistic choices in fashion and by having strong but relatable characters. In “The Daily Life of Mistress Red”, I tried to have the color red be seen in every frame and scene. I wanted red to be prominent in the film to represent warmth, sex, and Indigenous peoples, as it’s a sacred color to many of us. Stylistically, I hope people will think my films are beautifully curated, and every piece, character, and color is gorgeous. Through tone, I want people to leave theaters feeling emotionally understood and that they’re not alone in life, that a character can be just like them or someone they know. I want to be the Comanche-Tom Ford–watch “A Single Man”, and you’ll understand.

After getting to know you, your work and delicate filming process, how do you think your upbringing has influenced your oeuvre as a whole?

As an Indigenous queer filmmaker, I feel like my upbringing has influenced my work and what I want to see in my industry. A single mother raised me, and I’m a middle child who was really into fashion, Lady Gaga, and filmmaking. I feel like most of my stories are stories I wanted to see on TV when I was younger.

Where can your film be watched?

Currently, I’m working on a Kickstarter campaign to finance post-production funds for the film. You can see the trailer on the Kickstarter page or the production’s website, I hope to enter it into many festivals globally, have a festival tour and then release it online to the public a year later.

Check out Peshawn’s spread in the November/December 2021 issue here.