September 30, 2006

The Hollywood tribe

Roscoe Pond on stereotypes and reality in Hollywood“We are still considered as a stereotype, 'warriors and princesses,' which Hollywood created 100 years ago. My new documentary is an extension of that exhibit, but in a visual context that is very informative.”

While interviewing Native filmmakers in Hollywood, Pond explored the truths of Indians in film.

“I found we haven't come very far in mainstream Hollywood. Plus, we are only represented by less than 1 percent on TV and in films.

“We're at the bottom and really only subjected to Westerns. At least we are now playing ourselves instead of non-Indians.

10 comments:

Not a Sioux said...

Good points all around, but about "we are only represented by less than 1 percent on TV and in films". What is the actual proportion of the Native population? Isn't it pretty close to 1%?

Rob said...

If you round off to one digit, 1% is the correct approximation. But naturally it's a bit more complex than that.

First you have to define who's an Indian. From the 2000 Census:

"In Census 2000, 4.3 million people, or 1.5 percent of the total U.S. population, reported that they were American Indian and Alaska Native. This number included 2.4 million people, or 1 percent, who reported only American Indian and Alaska Native as their race."

So if Native actors, strictly defined, got 1% of the roles, you could say they were fairly represented. If they got only 0.5% of the roles, you could say they were underrepresented by half. So small differences in the numbers used make a big difference in the conclusions drawn.

I believe the 0.5% situation is closest to the truth. But you can't tell that from this article. With numbers this small, you have to be more precise. But I'm sure Roscoe Pond didn't expect people like us to be second-guessing his estimate.

Anyway, I keep track of the annual diversity reports at TV Shows Featuring Indians. That's probably your best source for the percentages on Native actors.

Carole said...

Interesting points you each make regarding the percentage of natives on film and TV. For the sake of argument, let's assume that natives do receive one percent of the roles.

Okay. Analyzing this further, what kinds of roles are these? That information would be even more revealing, I believe. I don't have the details about this, but I do have some hunches.

Do you have any stats about what kinds of roles natives are getting, Rob?

Such as...are they historical? minor supporting roles? men and/or women? thugs or businesspeople?

I'd love to know the answer...

Rob said...

I don't have any hard data, but you can imagine what the roles are. In the last few years, movies such as Dreamkeeper, the Hillerman mysteries, Into the West, and The New World were probably the biggest employers of Native actors.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
You'd think that this would be an area where I would be more than knowledgeable, but it isn't. While true that writerfella was an active film actor from 1981 - 1984, his activities were restricted by being a participant in the Florida arm of the film industry. I had an honestly efficient and hardworking agent in Cathy Tully (who both looked like and exactly sounded like Elizabeth Taylor!) and in that three-year period sent me up for roles in the Miami area ranging from bit parts to fourth prinicple. And I always got any role that she sent me in for the audition. I played mercenary and bodyguard soldiers in DOGS OF WAR and THE LAST PLANE OUT. I was an American Native guide and a soldier of fortune in KING OF THE AMAZONS and FREDDIE OF THE JUNGLE (Gorilas a Todo Ritmo). I was a Seminole chief and a Seminole alligator wrestler in PORKY'S 2: THE NEXT DAY and the non-3D version of JAWS III. Then I was companion, bodyguard, chauffeur, butler, valet, chef, personal trainer, and private pilot for a young millionaire played by Harry Hamlin in BLUE SKIES AGAIN. I even had a minor speaking role in an early episode of MIAMI VICE. Had I remained in the Miami area, Cathy Tully was assured I would get other roles as well.
But I had used up my GI Bill and exhausted my eligibility for tribal education funds, so I returned to Oklahoma and became a caretaker for my aged parents. I still went up for occasional film parts but always was beat out by Saginaw Grant.
In my history were two nondescript roles, two Native roles in comedies, two Native roles in one comedy-drama and then one drama. BLUE SKIES AGAIN saw me play a contemporary part that wasn't tied to the traditional Native-type role. The character was Native because I was Native, and not the other way around. On VICE, I also played a Tamiami man at the tribal complex.
The roles I auditioned for here in Oklahoma were standard Native parts, such as the drunken medicine man in WAR PARTY, Squanto's father in SQUANTO, A WARRIOR'S STORY, a small part I can't recall for LAKOTA MOON, the part of Jim Chee's 'phantom' uncle in THE DARK WIND, and Black Cloud the Native blood brother of Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford with a goatee) in YOUNG INDIANA JONES AND THE HOLLYWOOD FOLLIES.
Missed them all, principally because Saginaw Grant looks like the guy on the buffalo nickel. That's an actor's dozen of roles, with only one contemporary role that could have gone to,anybody, Native or not. But looking at all of the above, that just might be reduceable into a percentage that would find validity up to 1993.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Not a Sioux said...

"Missed them all, principally because Saginaw Grant looks like the guy on the buffalo nickel"

A coin stereotype????

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
And a pretty good stereotype gag, at that! James Earl Fraser, he of "End Of The Trail" fame, also designed the 'Indianhead' nickel. Because he was told he could not depict any one real person, Fraser combined details of the likenesses of Chief Two Moons of the Cheyennes, Chief Iron Tail of the Lakota Sioux, and Chief John Big Tree of the Senecas, all of whom had posed for him years before.
If anything, writerfella mostly resembles the late Will Sampson. When the Writers Guild Theater previewed ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST in early 1975, writerfella attended the showing with Harlan Ellison, who then was his teacher and friend. The terrifically powerful film reduced an audience of jaded writer cynics into just another movie audience and swept us all away. As we left the theater, people began to say, "Look, it's him! There's that Indian!" And I found myself shaking hands and getting hugged and being congratulated and backslapped because they thought I was Will Sampson. I tried to tell them I wasn't in the movie and (at the time) I was not an actor and that I was a writer like the rest of them. I was rescued by Harlan in his fast little sports car and he laughed and laughed at my discomfiture. Else, I might have been clutched at and grabbed and otherwise plucked to pieces because everyone wanted to know or at least touch THAT Indian!
In 1979, it happened again while I was in London with a summer seminar-load of students from Eastern Michigan University. I was writer-in-residence for a study of British sci-fi. On 'the tube' and on the streets, people suddenly came up and wanted to shake my hand or touch me or greet me with big smiles. Turns out that Will Sampson was on the BBC network in a docudrama miniseries called PAINTED BEAR. Best things then was that they were oh-so-polite about it all and it even meant rounds of pints in various pubs my friends and I visited. 'Look, it's Painted Bear!' they would say, and the ale flowed!
In fact, one of the factors that got me my role in PORKY'S 2: THE NEXT DAY was that Will Sampson was busy and the director Bob Clark settled for me instead. It was a bit disconcerting that he kept referring to me as 'Will' all summer of 1982.
Of course I eventually did meet Will Sampson at the American Indian Expo here in Oklahoma and he laughed and laughed when I told him what had happened to me because of him. In point of fact, Will Sampson was 7 to 8 inches taller than I and outweighed me by 50 pounds. Instead of real, I only was Memorex...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

Gee, Russ...somehow I've missed all your screen appearances. Sorry!

Not a Sioux said...

I'm sorry, I have to admit I did see one of them: The reason I'm sorry is that it is "Porky's II", of all things. I viewed it right after it first came out, which is a while ago, and unfortunately, I can't remember the alligator (let alone remember the guy who gave him the Steve Irwin treatment!)

I did see another on the list, "Jaws 3". However, I only saw the 3d version, not the 2d one Writerfella was in.

James Earle Frasier? He was born in Winona, Minnesota: an ancient town that the Sioux were kicked out of a couple of decades before his birth....

Anyway, I like the idea of being able to pull out a nickel when someone asks for your ID, just like George Washington can give someone a quarter in answer to such a question.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
There was an alligator in PORKY'S 2: THE NEXT DAY, but it was all trussed up in a canoe as we came to shore to greet the Porky's gang. I was a Seminole alligator wrestler in the non-3D version of JAWS 3, and the Seminole chief in PORKY'S 2. Best scene in JAWS 3 was when Dennis Quaid decided that his character should be a chain-smoker. He came up to a jetty in a boat, lit a cigarette, and approached the rest of us. And the six of us turned to meet him with cigarettes in our mouths. He about fell in the water at that one!
So, most people never have seen writerfella in his movie roles. BFD, because the Screen Actors Guild still makes sure he gets his actor residual checks every 90 days and they never are less than $1500. Nice work, if you can get it!
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'