By Sanford Allen
I play an Apache Indian who stumbles across Jonah Hex and leads him to a cave where he can hide out from these bounty hunters. You’re not really sure whether he’s a real character or a ghost or a figment of Jonah’s imagination. I also summon these crows that attack him, so you’re wondering if my character’s a source of strength for Jonah or if he’s someone he should fear. He wasn’t a Dances with Wolves kind of Native American character, where the writers tried to make him authentic and real. It was more of a comic book character—someone fun to play. I got to smile a lot when I played him, which is rare when you’re playing a lot of Native American roles in Hollywood. He was probably the furthest from a true-life Native American character that I’ve played, but in a way he was probably the truest to the Native American spirit.
You’ve been doing a fair amount of appearances at comic conventions lately, from COMIC-CON in San Diego to the LIVE OAK COMIC SHOW in San Antonio. Are you much of a comic book fan?
I do appreciate comics. Right now, my friend Gerard and I are working on a comic about a Native superhero that we’d like to get that out by yearend. It’s going to be fun to bring a real Native American to the comics instead of a stereotype. A lot of Native American people I know on the rez read comic books. You know, they’re cheap, they let you use your imagination and they let you escape about as far as you can get from the grind of everyday life.
Let’s talk about another one of your comic book connections. You played Marshal Ohiyesa Smith on a time-travel episode of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED.
That character was a Native American sheriff who was put on another planet to deal with the unruly populace there. He doesn’t have any real super hero powers. It’s kind of a frontier-type situation, and he’s the lawman who keeps everything under control. The Justice League comes to the planet to help him out because some super villains end up there. To be able to work with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman was bad ass. I mean, what nine-year-old kid wouldn’t love that? I would like to see that character come back around. It was a fun experience.
Are the roles for Native American actors better now than when you first got into the business?
I would love to say things have changed over that time, that there are more mature Native American characters being written, but I’m not sure that’s happened. I can say that at least Native American characters are allowed to think now instead of being the old sidekicks like Tonto, where the Lone Ranger asks “Are those four men on horses?” and Tonto says, “Yes. There are four men on horses.” Our characters now are a little deeper. They’re allowed to have their own thoughts. Sometimes non-Native American writers have us doing things we wouldn’t do or saying things we wouldn’t say—stuff that’s just not in our DNA—but at least we’re getting to think now. I’m still riding horses, shooting arrows and killing white people, so a lot hasn’t changed since I got into the business, but at least it hasn’t gotten worse.
Joss may enjoy playing a mystical shaman or whatever, but this confirms what I've been saying lately. Namely, that Hollywood has been going backward in its portrayals of Natives. Every unreal character tells viewers that Indians are an ancient, otherworldly people who vanished into the mists long ago. This puts them on the same plane as elves and fairies.
This is the first I've heard of Joss's creating a comic book. We'll see how that pans out.
Joss is talking about Marshal Ohiyesa Smith aka Powwow Smith, a 1950s comic-book character. I haven't seen that JLU episode, but I probably will someday.
The article also notes that Joss has a musical project, the Redcorn Band, which has released several CDs of "Native American alternative blues."
For more on the movie, see Asian Actors in Jonah Hex and Casting in Jonah Hex Movie. For more on Jonathan Joss as John Redcorn, see The Best (Only) Native Character.