Tonight, in San Francisco, the American Indian Film Festival opens with a screening of "Skye & Chang," in which Native actress Sera-Lys McArthur co-stars as part of a crime-fighting duo. She took a few moments to share her thoughts on the role with ICTMN.
The film is billed as a superhero action movie — do you have a super power?
I play reluctant superhero Skye Daniels. I am human in that I can fight and perform martial arts and parkour extremely well; as can my BFF Emily Chang (played by actress Olivia Cheng). Skye possesses the supernatural ability to "time-slip," making her able to see what is happening in a different space and time dimension — but she can't control it very well, it just kind of happens. People keep showing up on Skye and Chang's doorstep needing help, and just by their helpful, protective and loyal natures, the pair end up becoming a crime-fighting duo. I love the tag line on the poster, which sums up the story beautifully: You Never Know How Strong You Are Until Being Strong Is Your Only Choice.
Did you have to train for the action demanded by the role? Did you do some or all of your stunts?
This was a very low budget production, but [writer/director/producer] Loretta Sarah Todd found it in the budget to reimburse me for Kung Fu lessons. I trained in the traditional style of Choy Lee Fut, studying mostly at Bamboo Kung Fu in Toronto, and also received help from Mike Tan in Vancouver. I had about 4 months of training about 4-5 times per week under my belt when we went to camera. I have since continued training and am so grateful for the clarity and strength that Kung Fu has brought to my life.
I was able to do the end fight sequence and the chase scenes myself, but for the most part, I had a very talented double or two. Due to time constraints and safety concerns, it just made more sense to hire professional stunt doubles.
What's the central struggle in the movie — who are you fighting and why?
Skye and Chang is actually a 45 minute pilot for TV, which is being shown in the short film category. Basically there are a couple of story lines happening, one helmed by Skye and the other by Chang. These "bad guys" just keep showing up and my time-slip frequency increases and eventually we realize that there is some kind of giant conspiracy happening in both cases. Skye's struggle really takes action when a young woman shows up on her doorstep and Skye continually risks her own security to keep this girl, Kisik Aki (played by Native actress Rachel Colwell), safe from her pursuants.
What's the Native context for your character?
Skye is of Cree heritage, and is the quintessential "Urban Indian." She grew up on the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, which is where Chinatown is and also a lot of Kung Fu schools. There is also a vibrant Native community in this part of the city. This is why it makes sense that Skye and Chang, a Urban Native and a first generation Chinese Canadian, would be childhood friends and have trained martial arts together. Skye may or may not also be descended from "Sky people" — beings of Native folklore. This might explain why Skye has this "super power" of basically sporadic intense visions. Or maybe it's just because the Creator chose her as a special child of the Earth. Skye cares about the survival of Mother Nature and of her people, and mankind as a whole. She is one of the Indigenous guardians of the planet.
Do you have any other projects coming up you'd like to tell us about?
I have a short film also in AIFF that is called "The Wolf of Waubamik Woods" that I produced and star in which is based on the Highway of Tears in British Columbia. It is a gritty two-hander that was written, co-produced by and starring my partner in Raven Lunatic Entertainment, Steve Belford. It premiers as the opener for the feature film The Lesser Blessed on November 7th. I play a young Native woman who is down on her luck and hitchhiking to try and find a better life for herself. It is directed by former MuchMusic producer and host Bruce Turner. Steve, Bruce and I form the trio that is the newly formed Raven Lunatic Entertainment. We are developing a feature of the same subject matter. We also have another short-and-feature combo in development called "Street Sister," which delves into the issue of Missing and Murdered First Nations women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
I will also be starring in my first solo theatre production called "Quilchena" with Toronto's Native Earth Performing Arts Theatre Company. This play, written and directed by Tara Beagan, is an ode to a real life missing Aboriginal girl named Monica Jack. You can find details about this production at NativeEarth.ca. Stories of missing and murdered First Nations women and girls is a current issue that I hold close to my heart. I am dedicated to bringing these stories to life through film and theatre in order to raise awareness for this unfortunate societal reality. "Skye & Chang" has allowed me to focus on the strength of an Aboriginal woman who is doing her part to assist in a world of injustice. Is life imitating art, or vice-versa? It is through these stories that I have found my true calling and have realized the importance of my cultural identity in a modern context.