February 07, 2010

DeLanna Studi on Native roles

DeLanna Studi discusses role and life as a Native actress

By Will ChavezAfter high school, she attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah before moving to Los Angeles 10 years ago. Since then she has had roles in eight movies, including “Pow Wow Dreams,” “Edge of America,” “Dreamkeeper” and “Skins.” She has also performed in two one-woman shows–“What’s An Indian Woman To Do?” and “Kicks”–in Los Angeles.

Studi said one role she especially enjoyed was a strong-willed woman in “Dreamkeeper.”

“They allowed a Native woman to not be the victim. Since we’re Cherokee and were matrilineal, that really spoke to me,” she said. “I was just so happy to play a strong Native woman because I know so many of them, and yet when Hollywood makes a movie we’re never strong women. We’re always the victim.”

Of all her movie roles she said she has not played a Native “stereotype” and hopes she never has to, but she realizes she’s not at that point in her career where she gets to pick and choose roles.

She loves playing Native roles and likes that more of those roles are going to Native people.

“I believe we have a history that only we can share. You can cast another ethnicity in that role, but they’re not going to quite get the complexity of that role,” she said.

But it’s a double-edged sword, she said. She added that at some point she would like to play a non-Native role. Native people are modern-day people but rarely portray themselves in the modern world. It would be exciting, she said, to see a Native woman play a “Desperate Housewife” or Native people play detectives or doctors in shows.

And with that hope comes a position to help change things in Hollywood as she was recently elected chairwoman of the President’s National Task Force for American Indians of the Screen Actor’s Guild. One of the seven goals of the task force is to “increase employment opportunities by expanding the range of character portrayals and eliminating negative stereotypes.”

“We’re working on educating the industry about who we are as a people so that our people can get those roles…and you’re not limited to playing one type of person,” Studi said. “We’re slowly getting there.”
Comment:  For more on August: Osage County, see DeLanna Studi in August: Osage County and Pix of August: Osage County Primiere. For more on Natives in movies, see Indians Hold Steady at 0.3%, Movies Teach "Racist Assumptions," and Studi Challenges Sterotypical Roles.

Below:  "Beverly Weston (Jon DeVries), left, introduces his wife Violet (Estelle Parsons) to Johnna Monevata (DeLanna Studi), right, during the Pulitzer-Prize winning play August: Osage County on Jan. 26 at the Performing Arts Center in Tulsa, Okla." (Photo by Will Chavez)

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