Hollywood doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to the representation of Native Americans in movies. Not only do many Westerns rely on the “savage” stereotype, the roles in those films were often played by white actors, taking away some of the few possible acting jobs available to Native Americans.
But although we still see movies like The Lone Ranger being made in which Johnny Depp plays the role of Tonto, there are an increasing number of movies that are featuring actual Native American actors. So which movies are we talking about? Here are five movies that didn’t resort to brown face.
1. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
In this installment, Bella spends more time with Jacob and therefore learns more about his “pack.” When casting the roles of the Quileute tribe werewolves, the director wanted to hire American Indian actors. “They had to have papers that proved their heritage and they had to be in good physical shape,” Chris Weitz told USA Today.
They ended up hiring several Native Americans for these roles. Chaske Spencer is of Sioux, Nez Perce, Cherokee, and Creek ancestry. Kiowa Gordan has a mother who is Native American, and he also shortly lived on the Hualapai Reservation. Bronson Pelletier is a Plain Cree native. Taylor Lautner also found out he has Ottawa and Potawatomi ancestry on his mother’s side after he was hired for the role.
2. The Revenant
The movie takes place in 1820 and tells the story of a frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is left for dead by members of his expedition after being mauled by a bear. The frontiersman also has a son who is part Native American. Due to this relationship, Leonardo DiCaprio studied two Native American languages, but he didn’t stop there. To cast the role along with the many other First Nation characters, the producers recruited people of Native American ancestry.
The 17-year-old Forrest Goodluck plays the son, Hawk, and it is his only acting credit besides a movie short. He is a member of the Dine, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Tsimshian tribes. Characters Elk Dog (Duane Howard) and his daughter, Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o) are also of First Nation ancestry.
3. The Ridiculous 6
The Adam Sandler comedy tells the story of an outlaw who was raised by Native Americans and subsequently embarks on a mission with his half brothers to find their father. They hired Native American extras for the movie and Taylor Lautner as a lead, but there was still some controversy with the script.
A lot of the actors walked off the set due to a scene in which an Apache woman urinates while using a peace pipe, according to NPR. The actors were also reportedly offended by one of the characters being named Beaver’s Breath, and that the Apache characters didn’t look Apache at all, but like stereotypes. Now that the movie has been released, support for the movie has split and some of the actors have defended the movie. “It’s a comedy, not a documentary” an extra named Bonifacio Gurule told Koat.
4. The Indian in the Cupboard
This family movie shows a young boy getting an old cupboard for his ninth birthday that has a plastic figure of a Native American in it. But that figure comes to life thanks to magic. The actor who plays this character is Litefoot, who is both Cherokee and Chichimeca. The movie was his acting debut, and he has since continued acting. He’s had roles on House of Cards, Adaptation, and more.
5. Bone Tomahawk
This Western shows four men on a mission to rescue captives being held by cannibalistic cave dwellers. The main cast is filled with big name actors like Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, and Matthew Fox. The Native American roles were filled by First Nation actors David Midthunder, Raw Leiba, and Twilight’s Alex Meraz.
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