On March 4th, 2018, Native American actor Wes Studi, who most recently portrayed Chief Yellow Hawk in Hostiles, wowed audiences all over the world by speaking Cherokee while presenting a tribute to military veterans at the 90th Annual Academy Awards.
Indian country has been blasting social media in the past few days with a wave of positive responses regarding Studi’s appearance.
Studi, still feeling a sense of elation from his glamorous experience at the 90th Oscars, spoke with Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling about his evening, and discussed some of the backstage antics involved, which he called, ‘loosely choreographed chaos.’
Vincent Schilling: It goes without saying there was a tremendous response from Indian country regarding your appearance on the Oscars.
Wes Studi: It has overwhelmed my emails, texts and stuff, yeah. (laughs) It has been great.
Schilling: What are you feeling in the aftermath?
Studi: Well, the awards season is more or less over and I am starting to calm down a bit now. (laughs) It was a very exciting and hectic backstage. There was so many things going on back there and it really was just very exciting. It was nice to eventually hit the stage.
— Wes Studi (@WesleyStudi) March 4, 2018
Schilling: Statistics-wise you are among the sincerely elite. Very few people in the world will ever do something like this, and factoring in the Native populus, makes this even more of an exclusive club to which you belong. Online a few people have been speaking of Will Rogers who took part in the Oscars in 1934, Sacheen Little Feather, Graham Greene and and Buffy Sainte-Marie who were part of the Oscars. But this was a first in your instance, as an identified Native American presenting.
Studi: I really do think the show itself got a lot more viewers from what I’ve heard beforehand—by message, text, on my website and you name it—that people said they were going to be watching just because a Native guy was going to be on there for the first time in a good long while. (laughs)
Schilling: Weren’t you supposed to present the Oscar for sound editing?
Studi: Yes, at first they had made a different announcement of what I was going to present. The first announcement is that I was going to present for sound editing. After the first announcement, they decided to do the tribute. Later, they said, ‘let’s keep this quiet.’ They don’t like to announce what the schedule will be, and who is giving out what. We had to quietly apologize about this, but we moved forward with my solo homage. It was very good for me, though I would have loved to present with Laura Dern as well. I did see her when we were putting together the show.
Schilling: Can you walk us through what you experienced on the red carpet and backstage before you presented?
Studi: (Laughs) It was pandemonium. It is loosely choreographed chaos. Once you hit that red carpet, the publicists will take you up and down with your name on a placard, they check to see which press is interested and they guide you along and sort of stick you in front of someone with a camera and boom. When the camera is in front of you, you definitely have to be prepared with an answer or two. It is fun, it really is fun.
Schilling: I’ll bet. I saw you on the red carpet and said out loud, there’s Wes Studi!
Studi: (Laughs) There are several sections to the red carpet. I think the last people that I interviewed with were from a military news organization. From that point on, you have press on one side, and there is a big stand of people that shout your name and you wave at them and they go ‘wow’ and make noise. (laughs) And oh it is loud, it is loud. It is a relief to finish up. They take you back to green room of sorts and at that point they begin seating people. Then you sit and wait for a handler to come get you as you get ready for your stage time. They have a very nice green room back there where you wait. Stage managers are running here and there, and getting this person ready, they are exclaiming ‘quiet, get ready for the next cue, next cue.’ It is definite pandemonium back there, and it is loosely controlled.
Schilling: Did you bump elbows with anyone?
Studi: I had a nice conversation with Helen Mirren, Christopher Walken was also back there at that time. Everyone was about the same as myself in terms of feeling a bit jittery about going on. Many of them have been onstage many, many times. But this was my first one right? (laughs)
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Schilling: What was going through your mind just before you presented the military homage?
Studi: I was really glad that there was a teleprompter involved. (laughs) I was right there in the wings and I didn’t really hear when to come out. We had rehearsed the day before of course. I did not hear an introduction of any kind. All of a sudden the guy tapped me on the shoulder, and said ‘go!’ I thought ‘really?’ Then kaboom! I hope I hid my surprise at the time, as it came out a bit shocked. (laughs) I got a cue and walked on out.
Schilling: Did the Oscars know you would be speaking your language?
Studi: We had a meeting before with the writers and everyone. And everything was pretty much planned out.
Schilling: There was tremendous excitement on social media, especially Native Twitter, right after you spoke Cherokee.
Studi: They invited us to live tweet, but admittedly I am not adept at tweeting. (laughs) But, yes I saw all of that. The response has been a lot of great excitement and all very positive remarks that I have seen.
— Vincent Schilling (@VinceSchilling) March 5, 2018
Schilling: Has anyone said to you, ‘Hey, you are the Native guy on the Oscars?’
Studi: (Laughs) Yes.
Schilling: What did you do after the Oscars?
Studi: We jumped into stuffed elevators and climbed staircases filled with people. There are so many people involved. Afterwards we went to the Governors Ball and we had some good food there. We went to the Entertainment Studios Gala and saw Katy Perry perform. I also met some of the activists from Standing Rock. There were a couple of girls there that were part of the activism performance at the Oscars.
Schilling: There are a lot of people applauding you for your accomplishments in presenting at the Oscars. Young people are stating that they think that someday they’d like to do this.
Studi: This is possible. I did not campaign to do this, but it certainly was a great honor to be able to invited to be part of the show. For anybody who is interested in doing this or being in show business, I think, ‘if I can do it, so can they.’
Schilling: Has this exposure given you any opportunity?
Studi: There have been plenty of responses and good comments about all of this. But it has also given me an opportunity to promote a film that we can hopefully find distribution for. We have a meeting set up for later today with a distributor who hopefully will be interested what we have to say about this film called Pipeline. It is listed on IMDb and the filmmakers are trying to get it finished up so that we can pitch it as a theatrical release.
Schilling: Any last words or an overview of this experience?
Studi: (Laughs) Well, I would love to do it again. And I’d like to get one of those little statues myself.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter