October 30, 2010

"We can't find the talent"

Dakota’s aspiring Native actors

By Brian DaffronThe Screen Actors Guild is stepping up to these challenges with the SAG President’s National Task Force for American Indians outreach programs, the second of which was held Sept. 11 in Aberdeen, S.D. as part of the Fourth Annual South Dakota Film Festival. Panelists included task force chair Delanna Studi, Cherokee; task force member Brian Wescott, Athabaskan/Yup’ik; “Smoke Signals” and “Skins” director Chris Eyre, Cheyenne/Arapaho; and Rene Haynes, casting director for the “Twilight” series.

“Being in Los Angeles, there aren’t very many Native roles,” Studi said. “Recently, there’s been a few Native roles that are written, but they hire non-Native actors. The casting director and the director always say, ‘We couldn’t find the talent.’ By having this workshop, we’re showing that the talent is out there. You may not find it in Los Angeles, but you can find it in Oklahoma. You can find it in South Dakota. You can find it in New Mexico. But you have to be open to look for it.”
Comment:  I'm not convinced by the "we can't find talent" argument. Here's why:

1) There aren't that many Native roles. On network TV, it's something like one every couple of months. Meanwhile, anyone who follows Hollywood Natives could name a couple dozen talented actors without trouble. In other words, actors outnumber roles by a huge margin.

2) When producers aren't trying the "no talent" argument, they try the "bottom line" argument: Native actors can't open or carry a movie. Which the Twilight series has proved to be false, but never mind. These aren't interchangeable arguments, so which is it? Can't find Native actors or can find them but can't justify using them? Pick one argument and stick with it.

The most recent casting controversy is Taita Waikiti as Tom Kalmaku. Couldn't find a single talented Native actor born in the Western Hemisphere? Unlikely. Especially since Sikumi or Everybody Loves Whales are showing it's possible to find actors who are specifically Inuit.

3) I know some Native actors who rarely get any work. They claim it's because the studios and networks have a Hollywood blacklist. Producers and certain "gatekeepers" decide which Indians get jobs and which don't.

I don't know how much truth there is to this, but no one's even addressed it yet, much less disproved it. I set up a Facebook page--NO Hollywood Blacklist (Natives Opposed to Hollywood Blacklist)--to begin addressing this issue. Go there for more information.

In short, there are several reasons to doubt Hollywood's "We can't find the talent" argument. I'm not buying it until I see the evidence. Namely, some cases where the top 25 or 50 Native actors auditioned for a role and none of them fit the bill.

For more on the subject, see Hollywood Ghettoizes Native Actors and Patel's Struggle Shows Hollywood's Racism.

1 comment:

Burt said...

I'll say it again, the talent and will is out there in Indian country, it is just that both non-native producers and audiences across the nation are more interested in quick fix entertainment that involves repeats of seedy sex, violence and destruction, comedic standards and boring romances done over and over again by the status quo majority.

Thanks to Tyler Perry's recent onslaught into the industry, African Americans seem to be following in the Anglos footsteps of contemporary life and drama.

There is nothing new coming out that low-income Americans can relate to across racial lines. Even Perrys TV sitcoms come across campy and upperclass as "Friends" or "The Cosby Show".

Natives do not need Hollywood. We need our own studios and production companies and/or we should go to Europeans, Austrailians or Canadians, whom are in fact, more susceptable and receptive to native issues, writers and stories.

It is sad to see Chris Eyre go Hollywood. When is his film about Jesse Ed Davis coming out? Its been more than a few years since we've read they were supposed to be working on a film about the lengendary Kiowa guitarist? I hope Hollywood doesn't do a film on Davis. They'll probably have someone like Lou Diamond Phillips play him since by their standards, LaBamba somehow qualifies him to play a plains tribe native.