I’m anxious to see Reel Injun, having enjoyed the interview in NYC back in 08. I remember the windy streets and how hard the crew worked to get us on camera in a timely fashion.
Having worked in the film industry for a number of years, I have portrayed a wide range of American Indian characters from history and contemporary times both fictional and factual. I have always tried my absolute best to portray us in a positive light. I have learned, however, the best positive light is always open to interpretation. If my character speaks in ‘broken english’, its because there was a time in history when we did not have the command of english we now sometimes flaunt. And this speech pattern is indicative of the era, in which the story is told. As part of the story telling mechanism of society, we as actors need to stay true to historical fact. How would it look if we as Indian characters of the past spoke in say Shakespearean english or valleyese? A comedy, right? In any case, I for one would never stoop to using that kind of english in a contemporary story. Or would I? What if it was for comedic effect, as when a non-Indian would say “how”. I would love to answer a stoic “Scrambled”.
While I do not enjoy watching the character of “The Drunken Indian” stereotype I do not deny that he or she exists in our world, both historically and in present. If the character adds to the story and can influence even one audience member to avoid this kind of behavior, I think the character has served its purpose. Films are stories that relect us and our cultures. We all live in the same world. Our perspectives, opinions and attitudes are what differentiate, and make us all unique.
My take on the “white saviour” myth is that its more justification for the doctrine of democracy. Just as we continue to this day to spread its use by all nations of the world without thought that another method of governance may work for another people. This is perhaps the reason I so enjoyed the stories written by Tony Hillerman, as in “Skinwalkers, Coyote Waits, and Thief of Time” The very first book of his I read, has the duo of Chee and Leaphorn investigating a case of murder, and in the back of my mind, I kept wondering when the “Lone Ranger” or some such non-indian would come along to “show them the way”. Well, it never happened. Amazing eh?? These are the kinds of stories our young people need to see, and we as elders need to tell. Because we as Indians are capable of taking care of ourselves and the films and television we watch should reflect that fact.
And yes! we need to tell our own stories, and yes we need to rectify the stereotypes,….And we need to learn how to adapt our stories to meet a worldwide standard and touches the heart of every soul in the world!!
Wes Studi is a veteran Hollywood actor who has appeared in more 50 film and television productions, including Avatar, The Only Good Indian, Skinwalkers, Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans, Geronimo: An America Legend, Comanche Moon, Streets of Laredo, Mystery Men, The New World, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and Seraphim Falls. His official website is http://thestudigroup.com