December 12, 2008

Summer Glau, Cherokee?

I wouldn't have mentioned the insignificant Modoc line in the recent episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but there's actress Summer Glau. Let's talk about her a minute.

In AIFTV's 2007 annual diversity report card, Mark Reed counted Summer Glau as a Native actress. He supposedly based this on data from the networks, where somebody--perhaps Glau herself--reported her ethnicity.

Having searched the Net somewhat thoroughly, I questioned this claim. For instance, Wikipedia says she's "of Scottish, Irish, and German descent." The source for that claim is, which may or may not be affiliated with Glau herself. That source says:Even though she grew up close to the Mexican border, she’s not of Latin origins. Her ancestors were German, Irish and Scottish.I'd believe this, but a Fox executive e-mailed me to say I shouldn't rely on Wikipedia. I replied that I hadn't relied on Wikipedia; I had searched the Net somewhat thoroughly and hadn't found anything about Glau's being Native.

Another Cherokee identified

I recently contacted the exec to get more information. "She has reported to us that she is 1/8 Cherokee," he replied.

Hmm. That's a pretty large fraction compared to most people who claim Cherokee princesses as ancestors. If verified, it would be enough to get Glau enrolled as a Cherokee tribal member. She might've met a full-blooded great-grandparent and learned from him or her.

But how is it that no one has ever reported Glau's having Cherokee blood until now? That's kind of suspicious. I'd like to read or hear about this from Glau herself before assuming it's true.

It's not hard to imagine how seemingly white actors get categorized as part Native. Someone at a studio asks them to fill out a diversity form. A young actor writes that she's Scottish, Irish, and German. Her agents says, "Anything else? If you have any minorities in your background, it could get you more roles."

The actor thinks a moment and says, "Well, there's a rumor that one of my ancestors was part Cherokee." "Write that down," says the agent. Later, when a casting director asks the agent about the actor, the agent says, "Oh, she's 1/8th Cherokee or something like that." The casting director repeats the "1/8th Cherokee" part (ignoring the "or something like that" part) and it becomes the gospel.

No Pocahontas roles...yet

At least Glau hasn't taken any Native roles yet. And I still don't think much of AIFTV's counting her in its annual reports. When you have that small a fraction of blood (less than one quarter), other factors become more relevant. Does the person identify herself as an Indian? Does she know about her Native heritage and embrace it?

I haven't seen any evidence of Glau's doing that. Until I do, I probably wouldn't count her as Native except in an appendix or a footnote.

For more on the subject, see Diversity Lacking in Television.

Below:  What the Cherokees and Modocs needed to survive the white onslaught.


Unknown said...

Being exotic, a little coffee in our cream, has always been the thing here in America. The TV/Movie industry is notorious for using it or hiding it to create mystic and appeal. The hide or reveal depends on the flavor of the month/week/day. What they don't realize is that by doing so they push out the reality and create an illusion of what being "Native" should "look like". It is an illusion that most of us can't live up to. Rather than investing in our past we reach towards their reality - that includes Native media - and we end up defining ourselves within the context of traditions, history and culture presented to us, ones we truly can not own.

Anonymous said...

Hollyweird will always reach way deep down inside the convoluted cultural abyss of Indian-ness if it can somehow be parlayed into $$$ at whatever cost to the American Indian community.

That these efforts often come in extremely beguiling packaging is merely part and parcel of this traditional process.

"But, This Pic is Really Over the Top!"

Since I (an ex-soldier) regard firearms as simply tools with which to get a job done, then this young lass is no more than a carpenter's apprentice - like all of the femme fatales on the REAL SICKO "G Man's" so-called stacked and packed - all visuals and no real substance in terms of anything that means anything.

Anonymous said...

The second most hilarious part of your racist diatribe is that you think trolling the Internet is the same as research. The first most hilarious part is someone named Schmidt commenting on who is and isn't "Native."

Rob said...

Apparently you aren't aware that the Internet is a huge storehouse of information, Jackie. With literally billions of pages on almost every conceivable subject. Well, now you know.

If you can suggest a better resource for investigating Glau's background, go ahead and do so. What should I have consulted...her autobiography? A teen heartthrob magazine? Or maybe I should've written or called her for a personal response? Yeah, because that would've worked sooo well.

You stupidly criticized my research; now tell us what you would've done instead. In other words, put up or shut up. Assuming you're not too afraid to respond, I look forward to your answer.

Rob said...

Ho-hum...another accusation of my being "racist" without a shred of evidence. You couldn't even cite a particular line or lines and explain why you think they're racist? Your comment is the epitome of a worthless opinion.

As for my opining on Native subjects, I've been doing it for almost two decades. I'm respected enough among Natives that they seek my opinions, publish my articles, invite me to their conferences, etc. Compared to that, I couldn't care less about your laughable scorn.

I'm off to finish an article for Indian Country Today on non-Native actors being cast as Natives. This is something they asked me to write because they recognize my focus on the issue. I won't mention Summer Glau, but I will discuss Johnny Depp, Taylor Lautner, and the other wannabe actors taking Native roles.

Let's see...the no. 1 Indian publication in the country values my opinion; you don't. Hmm...Indian Country Today or Jackie Crow. That's a toughie, all right. I guess I'll go with ICT's professional opinion about my qualifications over your unprofessional one.