January 28, 2007

Native left out of Platoon

No One Ever Sees Indians:  “The Turn”The image of the beads and feathers continue to endure during the new enlightened period of the 1970s and still a Native Voice continued to be missing. The 80s showed few choices in regards to Native American films. More often than not, non-Natives were portraying Native roles, irregardless of Chief Dan George’s portrayals. The first time I realized that Native American actors were being ruled out was with the success of Oliver Stone’s Platoon, about his own experiences during the Vietnam War.

Later, I picked up an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine with an interview with Oliver Stone and he talked about casting Platoon. In the interview he revealed that he actually cast a Native American actor for the role of Sergeant Elias, my favorite character. This took me aback. Why was a Native actor not good enough for the role? I mean, he could have recast the role with another Native actor but chose Dafoe instead after seeing his work in To Live and Die in L.A.


Rob said...

Wikipedia says, "Berenger was born Thomas Michael Moore to an Irish Catholic family in Chicago, Illinois." I don't know anything about his Native background, so why don't you fill us in?

I can't vouch for author Whiteman, but yes, this is a context where being part-Native would be relevant. If Berenger has some Native ancestry, it would undercut Whiteman's argument.

Rob said...

On the other hand, Whiteman's point was that the Sgt. Elias character was originally supposed to be a Native. Casting an actor who isn't recognized for being Native in another, non-Native role isn't an equitable trade. The point still stands: A major character in Platoon went from being Native to non-Native.

Rob said...

So you don't think any Native actor was good enough to fill the Platoon role? Not even Graham Greene, Wes Studi, or Gary Farmer? I guess you don't think much of Native actors.

Let's consider a few other hypotheses. Maybe Oliver Stone was ignorant of the breadth of Native talent. Maybe he didn't try hard enough to find an acceptable Native actor. Maybe he didn't think such an actor would be appealing or commercial enough.

There are many possibilities, and a dearth of Native actors is only one of them. If Mel Gibson could find several acceptable Mexican Indian actors, I'm guessing Stone could've found one acceptable American Indian actor. If Stone bothered to search at all, he had an entire continent of Indians to choose from.

Rob said...

Wrong again? "I guess you don't think much of Native actors" is a spot-on response to "Native persons who audition for movie and TV roles either don't have the experience (it was writerfella's fifteenth such audition) or the training to realize they must know their lines." If you don't like my noting your denigration of Native actors, don't denigrate them.

All we know from the original posting is that Stone first cast a Native actor and then cast a non-Native. We have no evidence whatsoever about his thinking. The simplest explanation is that Stone hired the Native actor because he was qualified...the Native couldn't do the job for some reason...so Stone hired a non-Native because he was too busy or lazy or uncaring to find another qualified Native.

Your implied alternative--that Stone auditioned many Native actors but couldn't find another qualified one--is less straightforward and credible than mine. Such a search would've cost Stone time and money. Going by Occam's Razor, my theory is the more likely one.