Hostiles, a movie about the world of American soldiers, white settlers, American Indians and the world that surrounded them all in 1892, is slated to release in largely western markets this Friday. Among the most notable Native actors in the film is Wes Studi, who portrays Cheyenne Chief Yellowhawk.
In addition to Wes Studi’s role in the film, Christian Bale stars as the American soldier and officer Capt. Joseph J. Blocker and Rosamund Pike potrays a homesteader Rosalie Quaid. The movie also features an array of well-known actors such as Adam Beach, who portrays Yellowhawk’s son, Black Hawk, Q’orianka Kilcher as Elk Woman and Tanaya Beatty as Living Woman. Ben Foster portrays an American soldier held for murder, Sgt. Charles Wills.
Scott Cooper as director has been praised for his efforts to use Cheyenne dialect speakers and cultural consultants Chris Eyre and Dr. Joely Proudfit who are part of The Native Networkers.
On Wednesday January 10th, the National Congress of American Indians hosted a screening of Hostiles in Washington DC. At the event, Wes Studi took a moment to chat with Indian Country Today about his role in the film.
Studi told ICT about the cultural respect paid by director Scott Cooper and his crew and discussed how Hostiles was not solely a Native American film, but rather a film about America in 1892, a time in which Native people were a large part of history. Studi also told ICT what it takes to be an actor ‘worth his salt.’
You play Chief Yellowhawk in the ‘Hostiles’ movie. The movie doesn’t pull punches in terms of the hostility between all peoples at that time.
Everyone fights for what belongs to them. We are all hostiles in one way or another.
Can you tell me about your part in the film?
Every actor worth his salt should always play that they are doing the right thing. I always play my guy as if he is doing the right thing as far as he is concerned. Whether he turns out to be villainous in terms of the whole story, or heroic in terms of the whole story, an actor is bound to play his or her particular part as doing what they feel is the right thing.
We play the characters in film as if they are real people. We play them as much as possible as real people with the scripts that we are given, and use what we have to work with.
Your character had a great deal of humanity rather than any sort of stereotype.
This is one of the few times as an actor where I do get to smile in a film.
What do you think about Hostiles in the grand scheme of the film industry?
I think Hostiles is just another step along the way to actually getting a real Native American perspective. This story does not totally allow for that simply because it is a story about someone else. This is not an Indian film, and so many folks jump on the idea that it is an Indian film because it may have a lot of Native content and subject matter. This is not an Indian film, it is a film about America in 1892.
We as Native people have always had a large part of the development of this nation and this civilization that we call America. I think this is a tribute to what we went through in terms of the world we live in today.
The fact that Scott Cooper and Christian Bale were supportive of the cultural aspects of Hostiles speaks volumes about today’s potential industry.
I think the entire film absolutely works well because everyone was very open the idea and concept to maintain the authenticity with cultural consultants and the Cheyenne people— as you should when you are telling a story about them— it really is as simple as that.
What would you tell directors who think I want to make a movie that has native people in it? What do they need to know?
I would tell them to go outside of the box. Do your research and deal with the people you are portraying because we do still exist. I think that is the first step toward getting the authenticity that any writer and director will be looking for.
A lot of young Native actors want to emulate the strength and success that you portray as Wes Studi, the actor. What would you say to them?
I would say do not emulate me, do it yourself.
Wes Studi stars along with such actors as Christian Bale and Adam Beach in ‘Hostiles’ directed by Scott Cooper. The film premieres in select western region theaters Jan 19 and nationwide Jan 26.
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