By Jon Niccum
It's fair to say the American Indian activist and actor has earned that designation.
"I've made a difference in everything I've participated in," Means says.
A: In the '70s and '80s we thought they got it. They were finally treating us with respect. Then they do an about-face and become as bad, if not worse, than the treatment before. It's a horrible, racist, stereotypical image--racist to the point of genocidal. It engenders into the entire American psyche that we are primitive, dirty idiots.
Q: Can you give me an example of a movie you feel this way about?
A: "Dances with Wolves"--even though the liberals loved it. "Missing" by that bald-headed, redhead kid (Ron Howard). "Black Robe" from Canada, which was the most vile of them all. ... The TV series "Into the West" that won all those awards. Anytime you portray Indian people in a stereotypical way, you win awards.
But I do agree with Means that Native movies got better before they got worse. That was a central point in Ups and Downs of Hollywood Indians.
A: Man, that was perfect. And when they had the audition, you should have seen the lineup. Normally, I only audition for white modern roles. I don't usually audition for Indian roles because I've been there, done that. But I agreed to audition for that. They told me I had to ad lib. They had their set lines. But the scene that's so famous (involving Wandering Bear's cure for Cheryl David's "female problems"), I ad-libbed that. They all laughed so hard that they hired me on the spot.
A: Yes I do. I co-wrote a script called 'Wounded Knee 1973.' Every time we've made the rounds in Hollywood we'd pitch the project. We'd go in with all the data. Understand, I'm well-respected in Hollywood because of my activism. It opens doors. Plus I did "Last of the Mohicans," "Natural Born Killers" and "Pocahontas"--three movies that have made over $100 million. That's the success benchmark. Consequently, a lot of doors are open to me beyond just being an actor. We'd go in and bring our statistics about the history of movies from the '50s to now that treated us with dignity. And every one of them made beaucoup bucks. There's no reason not to make a movie that treats us with dignity. But there were no takers. Now I've got a new management company that has influence, and we're making the rounds again. It might actually be made 40 years after it happened.
On the other hand, he nailed the point that I've made repeatedly. Hollywood studios won't make Native-themed movies even though they've earned "beaucoup bucks." The reason must be something other than financial--in other words, racial.
For those "in the industry" who think I'm wrong, Means has more moviemaking experience than most people. And he agrees with me. Therefore, I'm sticking with my theory.
For more on the subject, see Russell Means Speaks and The Best Indian Movies.