July 09, 2009

(Mis)casting in Public Enemies

Last year I posted an item on Dillinger's Menominee Moll. Just recently I posted an item on Authenticity in Public Enemies. I failed to make the connection between the two...until now.

Michael Mann's biopic of John Dillinger features Dillinger's accomplice Billie Frechette. Frechette herself reminds us of her past.

Primary Sources:  'What I Knew About John Dillinger'--By His SweetheartThe Chicago Herald and Examiner originally published a multi-part article written by Evelyn "Billie" Frechette in August 1934. In it, Frechette told of her life with John Dillinger.

Born on Wisconsin Indian Reservation.

I was born on an Indian reservation at Neopit, Wis., sixty miles from Green Bay. I had two brothers and two sisters. My father died when I was 8 years old. He was French and pronounced his name without the "e," like Freshet.

My mother was half French and half Indian. Her tribe was the Menominees. They called them the wild-rice eaters. They used to have their hunting ground around Wisconsin and Michigan a long time ago, before the white man came and pushed them around.

Thinks of Indians Who Roamed Hills.

I think about that sometimes when I look out through the bars in the window at the hills and the trees here in Michigan. I get to thinking that my people use to roam around over those hills--long before the white man came along with his rules about harboring outlaws.

And I get to thinking that maybe the Indians had rules about things like that, too. Maybe if they caught a girl that was running around with an enemy chief they'd hold her and wait for him to come for her so they could kill him.

But I figure they would let her go after they killed him.

Recalls Working on Reservation as Child.

Nothing happened to me when I was a child. I don't remember anything that happened to me that was unusual. We had to work around the reservation with our Indian relatives and neighbors. My mother had a hard time bringing us up.

I remember I had an uncle that the government people thought a lot about. They sent him to Washington to do things for the Indians and he was a big man.

I got most of my schooling in a mission school on the reservation and then when I was 13 I went to government school at Flandreau, S.D. I stayed there for three years and then I went to live with my aunt in Milwaukee.

I worked as a nurse girl--when I could get work and that wasn't very often. I wanted to come to Chicago. I hadn't been any place in my life and Chicago was a big and wonderful place to me.
Comment:  Apparently Frechette was 1/4 Menominee by blood but considered herself an Indian. The question arises: Why hire Marion Cotillard to play Frechette? Why not hire a part-Indian actress instead?

Because Cotillard won an Oscar for La Vie en Rose? I saw that movie, but did anyone else? Cotillard was good but it wasn't that great of a movie.

So how many viewers opted to see Public Enemies because of Cotillard? Not many, I'm guessing.

Was Cotillard's presence a big selling point? Not in any advertising I've seen. I don't think any of the critics are saying she "stole" the movie or anything like that.

I think introducing an unknown (to mainstream audiences) Native actress opposite Depp would've been more of a selling point. "The big story is how [little-known Native actress] goes toe-to-toe with Depp and holds her own," the press might've written. "A star is born," etc.

I don't know how much Cotillard got for playing Frechette, but a Native actress would've gotten less. Perhaps much less. Since this movie probably won't make money, that would've been a selling point for investors.

Finally, Mann and company made a big deal about the movie's authenticity. Well, it would've even more authentic if it had gone into Frechette's reservation background and used a Native actress to portray it. How many people know John Dillinger was two degrees of separation from the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin?

For more on the subject, see Friday, Tonto, Jacob Black et al.


Kit van Cleave said...

Apart from Depp, Cotillard is getting the best reviews of the PE company. Critics are calling her "the heart of the film," "magnificent," and "the glue which keeps the elements of the film together," among other accolades. I guess that covers why Mann chose her, and and why, reportedly, Depp wanted her.

Anonymous said...

I agree, what a missed opportunity for a native actress to play such a unique part. Very disappointed with the casting. Plus Cotillard had a French accent in the film, which made it all the more unrealistic! Good movie, but this was just stupid.

Anonymous said...

Sitting in the theater watching Public Enemies, hearing Cotillard as Billie Frechette declare that her mother was Menominee Indian and that most men don't like that, all I could think was "when is this going to be on Newspaper Rock?"

Anonymous said...

Wow! Yet another piss poor Comment: "Apparently Frechette was 1/4 Menominee by blood but considered herself an Indian."

What the hell does that mean?! "Consider herself an Indian" So what now ever 1/4 indian out there has to get questioned by you if there a real indian?!

Go around ask some very High Native Public Officials how much blood are they and see what they tell you. Blood is blood its white america that draws the lines.

Rob said...

What does "Apparently Frechette was 1/4 Menominee by blood but considered herself an Indian" mean? It means some people who are 1/4 Indian by blood consider themselves Indians and some don't. I suggested which group Frechette belonged in, that's all.