August 20, 2011

Adam Beach on Hollywood stereotyping

In a 2007 interview, Adam Beach talks about playing Ira Hayes in Flags of Our Fathers.

Q&A with Adam Beach

By Carolina A. MirandaWhy do you think that Hayes was so haunted by what happened? Was it that he had survived one struggle and came home to face another?

For Hayes, there was obviously a struggle to maintain his identity and fight against racism. A lot of people, when they ask me about the film, say, "Oh my god, I can't believe they didn't let him drink in that bar and they kept calling him 'Chief.' That's so racist." I tell people, hey, this is reality. I grew up in those conditions. When I was growing up, my white friends would call me: "Hey, Chief!" Even when I go to work now, people call me "Chief."

Do people on movie sets really call you "Chief?"

Of course! People think they have the right to use that term with an Indian person. I don't get upset because I know they don't know any better. It's how people acknowledge Indians. Hollywood has portrayed such a negative image of who we are as people up on screen. They don't realize that there is a culture. There's another part of us that exists.

As you just mentioned earlier, Ira Hayes has been portrayed on film several times: first by Lee Marvin in an NBC television special in 1960 and then by Tony Curtis in The Outsider. Why do you think it took Hollywood so long to cast an Indian in the role?

I don't have an answer for why Hollywood still casts non-ethnic people for ethnic roles. It's something that has to change. Sometimes they'll write a character for a Native person and then say, "Well, there's no Native actors that can capture the intensity of this character, so let's just make it a white person." I've seen it time and time again. I also think that people in Hollywood don't believe that a Native or an ethnic person can be a draw and make money. There's so much politics involved.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Tavare on Hollywood Indians and Hollywood Ghettoizes Native Actors.

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