Jennifer Podemski is a veteran actress with a substantial filmography — but something about being in a Cannes contender implies you're upping your game. The 40-year-old Podemski plays the character Doll opposite Benicio Del Toro in Jimmy P.; her Native castmates include acclaimed performers Gary Farmer, Michelle Thrush, and Misty Upham. As a producer, Podemski has finished her first feature film, Empire of Dirt, in which she also plays Minnie, the matriarch of a dysfunctional Native family plagued with teen pregnancy, addiction and abuse. The Salteaux actress recently opined on a number of topics with ICTMN; here she discusses experiences and goals as a Native entertainer.
Have you experienced racism in your life?
When I was growing up in kindergarten and grade 1, people called me Chinese or chink. I was the only native kid in school.
"Racism" was never the issue — it was shame. I felt shame, and embarrassed of who I was. Eventually you realize this comes from fear. Anyone who grows up in an alcoholic home knows about shame. Learning to embrace everything where I came from and where my ancestors came from, I had so much fear and shame around this.
What has it been like for you working in the industry as a Native person?
There is that saying about being a half-breed — you never really quite fit in anywhere. The last 25 years of my career — whether as a producer and actor, writer or a human being — where do I fit? The world is not always very welcoming. The world likes things that fit into a cookie-cutter shape. The world likes digestible things.
My goal is that I really want to make more room for Native people in the industry. We had a very select few people 40 years ago. I hope that I've been able to do that little bit. That is what keeps me going.
What is your message as an artist and film producer?
We are all still here. We are more relevant than ever and I know that there are a lot of producers and writers and directors working very very hard and tirelessly to get their stories told. Their stories are not necessarily reflective of the entire Indian nation but they are reflective of their own experience, and that is important — because the more stories we can see from the ground up and on the screen, the more stories we can share amongst ourselves and bring to the global market. The more three-dimensional we will become to everyone else.
This interview is excerpted from a recent episode of Native Trailblazers, hosted by ICTMN correspondent Vincent Schilling.