You Can’t Name 3 Shows with a Native American Woman in a Lead Role
On August 28th 2020, Fox released New Mutants with Blu Hunt, a member of the Lakota, as Danielle Moonstar to luke warm receptions and poor box office sales. Some of this can be accounted for due to COVID, but it’s largely due to extensive reshoots after the Disney/Fox merger. Whether or not the film is good or makes money is not important. What is important is the effect on the career of a 25 year old Native American woman, the only Native American woman I can think of in a lead role in a multibillion dollar franchise. In ANY multibillion dollar franchise.
Blu Hunt got her first big break landing recurring roles on the CW series The Originals. Not a lead role, just a recurring character. Currently, this is the only Native American woman I can think of that has any chance of gaining any kind of fame or notoriety. Personally, I can only name a handful of Native American actors, all of whom are men. Lou Diamond Philips is part Cherokee and Graham Greene is Oneida.
Granted, in terms of injustices Indigenous People have had to deal with, not getting media representation is probably pretty far down on the list, but it is indicative of a more insidious issue Native Americans face, one that every group is responsible for. And that is: Native Americans are simply forgotten about.
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This was abundantly present when filmmaking began unsurprisingly. By the time the nation drank their phosphates at the pharmacy before going to the pictures, traveling Wild West Shows hired impoverished Indigenous People, forcing them to reenact brutal defeats and massacres. Once Hollywood had established itself as the new to-do, those same folks were hired for dangerous and equally demeaning film roles. This basically continued until the 60’s.
In 1962 Geronimo came out, and the weird psuedo-love affair the country had with Native Americans almost seemed like they may actually get a voice in this country. But unfortunately, fetishization by people like Jim Morrison, and the hippie culture at large, made Native American traditions and formal wear into a fashion statement. Even though Indigenous struggles had long been appropriated by sports teams, this new cultural appropriation did little to further Native American rights.
Then the Wounded Knee Occupation happened in 1973. Thanks to the American Indian Movement, the nation at large could, for the first time, see the horrific conditions endured by Native People inside reservations. During this time Marlon Brando conceded his Oscar acceptance speech so a Native American woman, Sacheen Littlefeather, could plea with the country on national television to please, just once, give a single fuck about Native Americans.
Throughout the 70’s white people continued to make shows that included Indigenous Americans. Native American actors, usually men, would land guest starring roles on hit T.V. shows like Chief Dan George on Kung Fu. Granted this series reeks of white savior complex, but for a show that has that against it, it did feature Black Brazilian actors, Native Americans, and Asians in a time of severe underrepresentation. Sympathetic characters like Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were played by Indigenous actors, such as Will Sampson.
Then, marketing and advertising wizards noticed the nation’s sudden love of Native Americans, and decided to ruin it.
Commercials like the Native American man crying over a single piece of litter belittle the point that, the reason the man would be upset, is because his homeland is gone. The litter is just a reminder. Then to top it off, after countless parodies, Native American issues once again become trivialized and ignored. Even the actor who played the character wasn’t Native American.
The culmination of Native representation in mainstream media in the 80’s sits with Lou Diamond Philips, who has more Filipino ancestry than Native American.
Then in the 90’s Native American issues were only allowed if Natives were saved by a white man in the end. We’re looking at you Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves. Or were completely silent the entire movie like in Shanghai Noon, where the the Native American character had only one line.
That was until two things happened. John Redcorn was created as a recurring character on King of the Hill, and a young Indigenous director, Chris Eyre, came out with his cult hit Smoke Signals. Which, for the first time, Native Americans were shown not as historical figures from the past, but as real people living in the present. In 1998.
From then until now, it has been mostly either white people playing Native Americans or actual Native American actor playing roles where the Native are shown as being vindictive Casino owners.
From then until now, it has been mostly either white people playing Native Americans or actual Native American actor playing roles where the Native are shown as being vindictive Casino owners. We’re looking at you Parks & Rec, South Park, and Drunk History.
I found it odd that when actors starting apologizing for taking roles not of their ethnicity, (mostly white actors taking Black roles, or donning black face) that there was not a single mention of a non-Native American actor playing a Native American role. Especially since these it’s usually pretty offensive, like when Kumail Nanjani who is Pakistani American did so in Drunk History or when Key and Peele had this sketch.
For those who cannot watch the video, the sketch comprises of a parody on Power Rangers/Voltron, in which the Green Falcon, a Black Man, keeps being called Black Falcon. It is a funny scene, but I personally can’t enjoy it because Kegean Micheal Key is playing a Native American man, wearing a headdress for some fucking reason, and doing the “How” voice. This is not the only time in the show’s running that they did this.
Recently the terrible season of American Horror Story: Roanoke did not mention Native Americans a single time. In a story that revolves around the lost colony of Roanoke. Also despite having previously mentioned in the show’s cannon that the Native Americans were intrinsically linked to the lost colony of Roanoke.
Even extremely recent Superhero franchises aren’t immune. In Suicide Squad, Slipknot was introduced, he needlessly elbows a woman in the face, then minutes later his character’s head is exploded. Only Native American in the movie.
In the last few years there have been a few glistening rays of hope. West World had an episode that detailed the brutality of white colonizers unlike anything I had seen before, but even then it was about fucking robots.
Season 2 of Fargo showed the storyline of a Native Vietnam vet that had one of the most best directed scenes in recent TV history. I haven’t had the chance to watch Season 4 of the series yet, but it does include an interracial lesbian relationship featuring a half Native American actor, Kelsey Asbille. Although the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians claim she has never been enrolled. So, who knows?
I mean, damn dude. I at least have my Caddo Tribal ID card and BIA hiring preference sheet.
What I’m saying is: I am enrolled member of the Caddo Nation, and I spent $40,000 on film school. I can write three dimensional, inclusive characters, if anyone in Hollywood is tryna holla.