March 26, 2010

Means on his acting career

Means spirited:  American Indian actor and activist honored at Haskell film festival

By Jon NiccumRussell Means' Lakota Sioux name (Oyate Wacinyapin) translates to "Works for the People."

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.
Hmm. Means isn't exactly humble, is he?Q: Has Hollywood gotten better at portraying American Indians since you first started acting?

: 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?

: "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.
I don't agree with Means that Dances with Wolves is bad. It's certainly no worse than Disney's Pocahontas, which Means touts because he was in it.

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.Q: What do you remember about working on "Curb Your Enthusiasm"?

: 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.
I didn't realize Means had appeared in Curb Your Enthusiasm.Q: Do you have a dream project?

: 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.
Hmm. I don't think there's much of a market for a Wounded Knee II movie. Thunderheart, Incident at Oglala, and We Shall Remain's Wounded Knee have covered the story already. I doubt Means wants to present an evenhanded look at the conflict. Pro-AIM propaganda is more likely. And the story's not that dramatic. As with the occupation of Alcatraz, the protest just sort of fizzled out after going on interminably.

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.


Anonymous said...

I agree on the part that making another 'Wounded Knee' flick isn't exactly exciting as of now. I, myself had seen Thunderheart snd Incident at Oglala and found both to be good films. Including a book I've read years ago(sorry I forgot the title as I have passed it along to a friend). What perplexes me is that it shouldn't come to a surprise to a veteran of Native acting like Means, that Hollywood are indeed 'no takers' when it comes down to Native themed films. And I wholeheartly agree that racism is behind that rejection. As for the Dances of Wolves bit, I didn't find it to be as bad as the others he pointed out. I still consider the classics from the 80's on down to be *some* of the worst stereotypical Indian films ever made.


dmarks said...

There's a lot of good to say about "Dances with Wolves". Especially that the Dunbar character came to adopt the Lakota tribe's ways (instead of him coming along as a savior to teach them the proper ways of living), and his role in the tribe was to help and live within the existing social order.... as opposed to him coming in and turning everything upside down ("Avatar").