The Boxers of Brule

Lower Brule, South Dakota | Film Short

Documentary, Sport

Jessie Adler

1 Campaigns | New York, United States

Green Light

This campaign raised $12,682 for post-production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

164 supporters | followers

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Help us put empowered young Native women on screen to share their stories. The film follows Shaionna and a boxing team of sassy pre-teens who find strength in sisterhood and Lakota traditions as they fight to heal their community and end the youth suicide epidemic.

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

The voices in the film are those of three generations of Lakota Sioux women. Through their personal experience and perspective, we learn about the larger social issues impacting many Native reservations today. We have an all-female crew, including our co-producer from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

The Story

At 23 years old, Shaionna lost her best friend Cheryl to suicide. Cheryl - her cousin by blood and sister by culture - was an aspiring boxer who battled depression and addiction. Though struggling with the same factors that drove Cheryl to suicide, Shaionna creates a boxing team for the girls following in their footsteps with desperate hope of leading them down a safer path. Together the squad of sassy pre-teens face the challenges of the reservation with relentless humor and slushy-stained smiles, lingering patterns of self sabotage taunt Shaionna all the while.


Current reports show suicide rates on Native reservations to be 3.5 times higher than any other racial or ethnic group nationally. Forty percent of Native Americans who die by suicide are between the ages of 15 and 25. Since we began filming 16 months ago, we have witnessed members of the community lose six loved ones to suicide. This issue is urgent and complex. The film seeks to build better understanding of the issue by looking through the lens of these young women and girls.


No matter the circumstance, athletics provide healthy ways to channel frustration into a progressive form. In isolated or disenfranchised communites in America, sports continue to be one of a few available ways to escape, mentally or physically. Consequently, boxing has been popular on reservations for generations and proves to offer the young women of this team a sense of power over their own future.


“The good side of me wants to pick all the pieces up and fix everything. And the other side wants to destroy everything and make everyone feel how I feel.”  - Shaionna Grass Rope


Shaionna, the team's founder, is as fierce as she is vulnerable. We see her hustle to make this team a reality, nurture the girls' curiosity in Lakota traditions, and orchestrate haphazard actions for suicide prevention. But she is hit with unrelenting adversity, and in moments of doubt she waivers between hero and antagonist, wrestling conflicting identities of activist and addict.


In her first boxing match ever, Shilea jumps in the ring swinging. As Shaionna's younger cousin and youngest boxer, she has already faced many of the same challenges as a younger Shaionna. But her youthful optimism and uninhibited ability to love provide her the faith needed to believe in Shaionna's ability to lead the team towards positive change.



“All my life I never had much, but what I did have was my kids. They were my most precious prize in the world. I fight this pain every day to be with them." - Davita Thompson


In a testment to her incredible strength and grit, Shaionna's mother Davita has survived far beyond the expectancy for kidney failure and calciphylaxis. She also boxed as a young girl, and encourages the team to support each other in and outside of the ring. As she faces her own mortality, she reflects on what was passed down to her and what legacy she will leave for her children. 


The team consists of Jada, Raelynn, Rianna, Lacosta, Amara, Doris, Tashia and Shayla. They swim in the Missouri River, sing songs around a bonfire, collect sage and have slumber parties. Sometimes they box. And they never miss the chance for a cheeky comeback. In the film we experience them winning, losing and simply living their lives in the quick pace of their beating teenage hearts.


I met Shaionna for the first time on July 13th, 2017. I knocked on her door, and she swung it open and ambushed me with a huge hug. She was BURSTING with excitement. I had heard about Shaionna’s efforts to empower youth through boxing, and I was eager to focus my thesis film on young Native women making positive change in their community. On that day, a year and a half ago, we agreed to tell that story together.

It was not until four months later that I accepted the fact that there was a darker side to her story; two more months before she spoke openly with me about about her ongoing meth addiction. In May of this year she called me on her way home from jail to say she wanted to film this part of the journey, “so none of the girls follow the path I’ve taken.” This is not the film either of us planned to make. But we learned to trust each other, to let real life lead the way, and to keep filming through unbearable pain and insufferable laughter (the time I have spent with the team and their families has been full of both, often happening simultaneously). My mission now is to create a film that does justice to this story we never meant to tell.  


We want this film to have an impact so girls like Shilea, Jada, Raelynn, Rianna, Lacosta, Amara, Doris, Tashia and Shayla look forward to and have power over their futures. We are planning for screenings and discussions within Native communities, partnering with local and national Native-led organizations to facilitate conversations that will guide our social impact campaign. We are looking to festivals, public television broadcast and online streaming in order to also reach and rally non-Native audiences.  


Thanks to support from the TFI ESPN Short Documentary Program and the generous input of some amazing cultural advisors and producing, editing, and directing consultants, we are almost to fine cut! With your support we can fund the final sprint to finish the film and kick off our social impact campaign planning. Any funds received beyond our goal will go towards our community engagement and social impact campaigns. Thanks to our fiscal sponsor Pitch Her Productions, all donations are tax deductible. We are grateful for your contribution and excited to have you along on this journey with us! 







Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Cash Pledge

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Insurance & Admin Fees

Costs $2,500

In order to find distribution we will need E&O insurance, the creation of an LLC, and legal consult.


Costs $5,000

We are near the finish line, but final finessing of each scene requires editing consultation.

Community Outreach

Costs $2,500

Community screenings and discussions will guide our social impact campaign. Help make them happen!

Color correction

Costs $1,500

A slice of budget is dedicated to color grading so the film is as visually compelling as possible.

Sound Mix

Costs $1,500

These characters have something to say! Help them be heard loud and clear with a good sound mix.

Festival Submissions

Costs $500

Help cover submission fees for film festivals, which help to promote the film and its cause.


Costs $1,500

An original score will help articulate the tone to shape viewers' emotional experience of the film.

About This Team

JESSIE ADLER (Director, Producer, Cinematographer) is a documentary filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. After receiving her Bachelor's of Fine Arts in photography and sociology from SUNY Purchase College, she worked in the fashion photo industry for several years. In 2014, Jessie began working as the Human Rights Storyteller for EarthRights International, where she created photography and short form films that supported their work alongside communities advocating for their human and environmental rights in the Mekong and Amazon Regions. She received a Master’s of Fine Arts in Social Documentary Film in May 2018 from the School of Visual Arts.


SHIALA GREY-SKY KING (Co Producer) is a Lakota painter with a passion for philosophy and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Born and raised in South Dakota, she grew up holding a camera on the shoulders of journalist parents. Her introduction to human rights and media began at age eight when her parents debuted their newspaper, "The Native Voice.” Today Shiala fights for Indigenous rights through projects ranging from traditional Navajo weaving to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, working to expose the plight of her people through film, art, writing, graphic design, and community outreach campaigns.


HANNA NORDENSWAN (Co Producer & Sound Recordist) is a Finnish journalist and documentary filmmaker with a Bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Helsinki and a Master's of Fine Arts in documentary filmmaking from the School of Visual Arts. Hanna has worked as a journalist both in Finland and internationally, for radio as well as for print. She is the co-founder of independent Helsinki-based theatre group Teater Hekate, in which she functions as producer and writer. As a filmmaker, Hanna focuses on the stories of people around us that are rarely heard. She has directed three short documentaries and works as a sound recordist and producer.

Current Team