The New Mexico history museum in Santa Fe recently highlighted the star power of Native actors Wes Studi, Gary Farmer, A. Martinez, newcomer Forrest Goodluck and director Chris Eyre on a panel entitled “The Evolution of Native Cinema: A Journey of Native American Actors and Stories.”
During the discussion, the five panelists spoke about the state of evolving Native cinema and whether Hollywood was more interested in Native-themed films than actual Native actors.
“There are two different things going on,” said Eyre, the well-known Southern Cheyenne/Arapaho director of Smoke Signals who also serves as Chairman of The Film School at Santa Fe University and leads the Robert Redford Milagro Initiative, a scholarship program which aims to elevate suppressed voices of indigenous cultures from across the globe.
“[In] Hollywood, those movies, Dances with Wolves with Kevin Costner and The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio, are always going to exist. … There are two different games in town and it’s a matter of what the marketplace absorbs. We know it’s not absorbing independent films,” said Eyre,
“The evolution or the revolution, has broken down,” said Studi (Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans and Geronimo), a member of the Cherokee Nation. “In the ‘90s, it had some impetus. It was moving. Then it died down. We go back to the same old theory that every 25 years or so movies with Indians become popular. Westerns can’t be made without Native Americans in them. It’s been a cycle for years.
“We have to take advantage when we get a five or ten-year run. Hopefully what we can do is take that opportunity and use it to the point that we get either a star out of it, or we get a film out of it that actually has American Indian content that speaks to the whole of the public,” said Studi.
“The problem is you need money to play in this industry and [Native] people who have money aren’t doing that,” said Farmer, (Smoke Signals, Longmire, The Red Road) who was born into the Cayuga Nation and Wolf Clan of the Haudenosaunee Iroquois Confederacy. “It’s not like there’s no money in our community. They just don’t see the power of story.
“I don’t know how we fix that. I could take six solid actors in a room, get a writer and create something new. We’ll sell it to TV as a pilot and we’ll make a series, and we’ll make their money back. It doesn’t have to be millions, but we need some investment in our Native power,” said Farmer, well-known for his iconic role as Philbert in Powwow Highway.
“I think we’re at a point in time where things could change drastically with the browning of America,” said Forrest Goodluck, who is Navajo/Hidatsa/Mandan/Tsimshian and played the son of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Revenant.
“When Smoke Signals came out [in 1998] it was the only film on the marketplace that had representation by a Native voice. So I think things have changed and I think they’re continuing to evolve. You see so many youths who actually are making movies now. Young Native people are making movies,” commented Eyre.
“There’s a shift in mentality now, and I think it’s a great opportunity for Natives to make our own films.’ said Goodluck. “Hopefully, my legacy will be to start making films and showing Native people in a very good light. That’s my dream and that’s my focus.”
Pam Pierce, CEO of Silver Bullet Productions said, “It’s important to have other people see and talk about the evolution (of Native cinema), and that the best is yet to come.”
The event was sponsored by Silver Bullet Productions’, whose mission is to encourage educational achievement in New Mexico’s communities through a filmmaking program that empowers students, impacts academic opportunities, and preserves community culture and heritage. For more information about Silver Bullet Productions, visit www.SilverBulletProductions.com.