Q. Mr. Greyeyes, do you feel that there is a lack of appreciation for the work of Native American or people of color in the film industry? Do you think that there are limited roles or movies for Native Americans in the film industry? I have seen a lot of your work and read some of your interviews and would like to say that I really appreciate you and your work. I think that you have a very kind soul and I wish you and your family the very best that life has to offer any of us. Donya
A. I think that people who make “Indian” movies are unconsciously biased about us, but that doesn’t mean to say that what they are doing sometimes isn’t excellent or well intentioned. I think they’ve simply been brainwashed by other films and media images, and, often, thoughtlessly perpetuate them. Does this mean that what they’re doing is, therefore, forgivable? No, not at all. Shame on them for not knowing the difference. A few years ago I spoke to an audience at Kent State University and I asked the question: What do you think Indians look like? I answered for them. “You probably imagine that they look like me, for example – brown skin, long dark hair, high cheekbones, etc.” I said, “I’m proud of the way I look, but I know that I am only one small example of what native people actually look like. There are Indians who look like Black people, or even white people—they have green eyes, even blue eyes, curly hair, but they are full-blooded members of their tribes nonetheless. Those people would never get hired by the Hollywood establishment because they don’t ‘look Indian.’ Isn’t that sad and ironic?” I told the audience that I am lucky. I am in my 30’s and am exactly the kind of thing that producers, who have the same perceptions of us as the general audience does, imagine when they think of a proud Indian warrior. That has helped me get the roles I’ve landed, but I think I’ve given those characters more depth than the writer or director intended.
I originally answered this question a few years ago, but I’m afraid to report that nothing has changed here in Hollywood. As you know, I wear my hair short and recently came up for a part in a major motion picture—a period western. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get hired due to the fact that I am no longer stereotypically “Indian-looking”. The director and casting agent told my manager that I was too “clean-cut” and “cerebral” for the role. Sounds to me like they prefer their “Indians” to be “dirty, or dishevelled” and “stupid”. Good grief.
Q. At the beginning of “Stolen Women” it says, “based on a true story.” Do you know any details of this “true story” and how accurately it was portrayed by the movie?
Hi, I loved “Stolen Women, Captured Hearts.” Was it a true story? Was the movie based on a book? I would love to read it.
A. The idea for “Stolen Women” comes from a book called “Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier” (by Joanna L. Stratton). Leigh Murray, the producer of the film, originally read this book and saw a brief passage about the true story of two women who were kidnapped by a band of Indians. The woman (Anna) did fall in love with one of the men in the band and stayed with him. From this brief passage, Ms. Murray’s curiosity was piqued by what this story could have been about. Many events soon followed, having the writer create the script, getting CBS interested in the idea and eventually getting a star like Janine Turner also interested in playing Anna. Even then work continued with the cultural advisor Lois Red Elk creating accurate names for all the Lakota characters, like mine: Tokalah (which is a traditional name in her culture). From these interesting beginnings emerged one of my favourite films. I think many of my fans will agree, it was worth all the effort.