Bringing Awareness to Indigenous Women, MHS’s Senior Lopez-Sanchez Stars in Short Film


Akira Pescador

Upon the disappearance of her cousin Jenny, Molly—portrayed by Mililani High School senior Julissa Lopez-Sanchez—and a group of Native women from their reservation community take it upon themselves to search for the missing girl in the 11 minute short film “In Our Own Hands.” Public viewing of the film will be available from November 5 to 13 on the American Indian Film Festival website.
“It’s to bring awareness to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and the whole Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement that advocates for the end of violence against Native women,” said Lopez-Sanchez. “It works to draw attention to the higher rates of disappearances and murders of Native people, particularly women and girls.”
Inspired by writer and director Jennifer Varenchik’s own personal experience with the disappearance of a friend, the film addresses the dismissive attitude of local and national authorities towards the crimes committed against Native American women. In fact, a 2016 study by the Urban Indian Health Institute revealed that only 116 of 5,712 reported cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women were logged into the Department of Justice database that year. While Varenchik’s friend was eventually found, the fact remains that the police initially did not take the appropriate measures to help.
Not only is this short film meaningful to Native women who are affected by situations like those depicted in the film, but also to the Native performers and directors—including Varenchik and Lopez-Sanchez—behind the film itself.
“People from an online script reading group I was participating in during lock down told me it would be difficult. One of them, an older gentleman, told me, ‘I don’t think there are any Native American actresses.’ He meant at all, not just in Hawaii, but as in none existed,” said Varenchik. “Which is why this short film is so important, people need to know we are still here.”
As vice president of the Oahu Native Nationz Organization, Varenchik reached out to the membership, offering them an opportunity to act in her upcoming film. Lopez-Sanchez, hailing from the Menominee Tribe in Green Bay, Wisconsin, decided to step up and volunteer.
“I’m not an actress, but I told her I’ll do it because I wanted to prove those people wrong for saying that she’s never going to find Native people to be in her short film,” said Lopez-Sanchez.
Despite this being her first time in acting, Lopez-Sanchez’s character Molly was the main protagonist of the film. And while Lopez-Sanchez enjoyed experiencing the filmmaking process firsthand, she does not intend to pursue an acting career unless directly approached with any future opportunities.
The filming of “In Our Hands” took place in April 2021 over the course of two days, with one day each being spent on rehearsal and shooting. This was made possible because Varenchik won the Hawaii Filmmakers Collective Pitch Contest in January 2021. As a result, Varenchick gained free access to the HFC studio, lighting equipment, her own film crew, and up to $1000.00 in covered production costs.
“What you can do is educate yourself, you know, we always have more to learn about the whole thing. That’s all I can ask people to do, is just educate themselves on the whole topic of the MMIW and also use your voice,” said Lopez-Sanchez.
For anyone interested in viewing “In Our Hands,” tickets will be available starting November 15, 2021 at 1 p.m. HST at To learn more about the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Movement, their website is

Additional information about Jennifer Varenchik and her films can be found through the helpful links provided at