THAT BEETLE DOWN THERE
Directed by Tim Arnold
REVIEW BY CLAIRE ELAINE
When this short film opened, I expected least that it would end up directly challenging a stereotype imbued into me as a child through the likes of my 90s favorite: “Pocahontas.” I realized, somewhere in the midpoint of this film, that one of its primary subjects was directly challenging something I didn’t even know had to be challenged - that not all Native Americans are concerned with “every rock and tree and creature” above all else.
That Beetle Down There presents us with the tenuous situation of the Nicrophorus Americanus, or American burying beetle, registered as endangered since 1989 yet thriving in Osage County, OK, or Osage Nation. You may be familiar with this area if you are an American history buff or if you’ve read the 2017 novel Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (if you haven’t, you may want to mark it for next on your list!). For those of you who aren’t aware of this history, at the turn of the century, the Osage natives became the wealthiest people, per capita, in the United States after they struck oil in 1896 and had smartly negotiated the mineral rights with the United States government prior to this discovery.
As the film opens, we meet Andy Middick, a contract biologist for the Beacon Environmental Assistance Corporation who is part of surveying land before any new ground is broken in efforts to conserve the beetle numbers. Conservation efforts we understand are important because this beetle is on the endangered species list (despite being plentiful in this area and showing up in 86% of new digging sites), but even more so because of what the scientists hope to learn from the evolutional capacities of the secretions of the Nicrophorus Americanus. We learn that these beetles conserve carcasses of dead animals to feed their young for up to 6 weeks - something the scientists are keen to learn more about.
However, Everett Waller, council member at the Osage Nation Mineral Council and Osage descendant, is far less concerned with the scientific implications of studying this beetle. Instead, he is primarily concerned with the limitations the beetle puts upon his ability to continue working and expanding his oil operation to support his family and the Osage people. To him, labeling this creature as endangered appears as yet another limitation by the government in the guise of something honorable. To be dealing with something endangered that is present on 86% of their land leaves Waller feeling untrusting and angry.
So, “What is the point of a beetle?” [00:01:04} Well, it depends on who you ask, but with the strict regulatory protocol in place, I don’t think their dance is ending anytime soon.