Native American Indians are often called first Americans for obvious reasons. However, despite their status as the first nation in America, native American Indians often get the raw end of the deal. This is also true in the entertainment arena, such as films, television, music and theater. Nonetheless, first Americans are as talented as any other race, if not more in some cases. That is why many people and organizations strive to promote American Indian participation in show business, and firstamericans.org also strives to raise awareness about that struggle. Some native American actors and Native American actresses have already been trailblazers, and others hope to follow in their footsteps.
Some of those native American actors include Graham Greene, Adam Beach, Wes Studi. Greene’s breakthrough role was in the lauded film Dances with Wolves; the part of Kicking Bird earned him an Academy Award nomination. Other notable films include Maverick, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and The Green Mile. Adam Beach had some inconsequential parts in movies like Windtalkers and Joe Dirt, but he gained well deserved recognition for his role in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers. Studi also appeared in Dances with Wolves, as well in The Last of the Mohicans, and he played the title role in the biopic Geronimo: An American Legend. They are a few of the first Americans who have made a name for themselves in the entertainment industry.
In addition, native American actresses also rank among the first Americans who have contributed their talent to the big and small screen. Rose Marie “Tantoo” Cardinal, for instance, acted in Legends of the Fall and in the TV series Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman as well. Irene Bedard, on the other hand, voiced the character of Pocahontas in the Disney animated film, and then went on to portray Pocahontas mother in Terrence Malick’s The New World. Other native American actresses are Geraldine Keams, and Sacheen Littlefeather, who gain notoriety for being Marlon Brando’s mouthpiece concerning Indian affairs at the 1973 Oscar ceremony.
However, when it comes to first Americans and the entertainment industry, it is not only about getting exposure, but also about having a fair portrayal. More often than not, what is seen on TV and films are stereotyped versions of native Americans, generalizations that fail to be truthful. While it may be a stretch to suggest that native Americans could be cast as characters from other ethnicities, it is surely not too much to ask for native American round characters instead of unidimensional stock characters. Here at firstamericans.org we feel that first Americans can be well educated, productive and responsible members of society, and so they should be represented in the media and the arts.