Craig Falcon, one of the two Native American cultural advisers for “The Revenant,” said he was impressed with the efforts of the film company to accurately portray the various Native cultures in the movie and that, while it does signal progress, there are still people in Hollywood who are blind to the true story.
Falcon, who is Blackfeet/White Clay, spoke recently about his experiences with “The Revenant’s” Director Alejandro Iñarritu, lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio and some details of the whole process.
His work as a consultant normally takes Falcon into schools, universities, museums, and now the film industry where he teaches about the cultures of North American tribes. His experiences teaching and working with Iñarritu, DiCaprio and others in the movie were positive, he said.
“They entered the experience very open minded and respectful,” Falcon said about Iñarritu, DiCaprio, and the crew. “DiCaprio had questions about our medicines, like dealing with a bear attack and he was inquisitive about our culture in general.”
Both the director and the lead actor joined in sweats with Falcon and the crew. Both of them asked about the medicines, he pointed out, and what they were used for.
“I gave them medicines for praying and I taught them a lot of things about our culture,” Falcon continued, noting that the prayers and blessings he said were in the Blackfeet language, but the Native characters in the movie were Pawnee or Arikara.
The Arikara language coach for the film was Loren Yellowbird Sr., a cultural resource interpreter and park ranger at the Fort Union National Historic Site in North Dakota. Yellowbird is Arikara and is a fluent speaker of the language. Falcon said that Yellowbird was the main language coach and that he filled in for him at times, but always with Yellowbird’s help through phone sessions.
Falcon and Yellowbird were not the only Native people involved in the production. There were four Native actors with significant roles—Melaw Nakehk’o, Dehcho Dene & Denesuline; Forrest Goodluck, Diné, Mandan Hidatsa and Tsimshian; Arthur RedCloud, Diné; and Duane Howard, First Nations (Nuu-chah-nulth territory)—and several First Nations people playing extras. When asked whether Iñarritu had Native heritage he said that, “Inarritu is Mexican and so many Mexicans have indigenous blood; maybe something in his cell memory helped him connect.”
“It was amazing how he honored the culture and I credit that with him being indio,” Falcon stated.
“One other important thing about filmmaking today is that in the past they didn’t include Native advisers. They only used non-Native historians who based their knowledge on books, which only scratched the surface of who we are,” he said.
The Native people who spoke to those authors “didn’t give them the info about who we really are, the [Native subjects] didn’t trust them and gave them some stories to earn money and get the authors off their backs.”
Falcon noted that while there has been some progress for Native people in the film industry there are still problems.
“Just after ‘The Revenant’ I was working on another project and I ran into a costume designer and a director who just didn’t care about our story, about our truth. I walked off the set,” he said.
“There are still a lot of non-Native professionals that are clueless about our people, almost to the point of borderline racism,” Falcon continued, “I hope that changes.”