By Brad Bellegarde

A well-known First Nations actor brushed off a chance at a Hollywood hit last month by choosing not to audition for HBO’s new mini-series about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. “I’ve gone to a lot of film auditions before and based on experience there is a certain look that the (film) directors want for period pieces and I just don’t fit that profile,” said Curtis Peeteetuce, artistic director of the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company (SNTC) and member of the Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nation.

The Lewis and Clark mini-series produced by Hollywood heavyweights Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and Edward Norton held an open casting call in Saskatoon last month where hundreds of First Nations people attended to get a shot at the big screen.

“I’ve never really auditioned for something that was bigger than a Canadian television series,” said Regina filmmaker and actress Candy Fox, who has acted on APTN’s Moccasin Flats and Rabbit Fall.

“I really feel that this story could be something interesting. It’s dramatic and that’s something that I really respect in that regard,” said Fox.

Last month also saw at least a dozen Native American actors walk off the movie set of Adam Sandler’s Netflix film, which reportedly makes fun of Indigenous stereotypes.

In regards to the actors walking off the set, “I very much support that decision!” said Peeteetuce. He went on to say, “Adam Sandler’s humour is very brash and very bold and there are times when that works, but in the case (of portraying) Indigeneity, it just does not work.”

Sandler’s movie features women characters with names like, Sits-On-Face and Beaver Breath. Those were some of the reason’s actors walked off set. “There are some insulting names and imagery that come with it. I believe there was an image of a woman smoking a pipe and doing something that was not appropriate for holding the pipe,” said Peeteetuce.

Peeteetuce and the SNTC have always worked to break that Hollywood stereotype by engaging in dialogue with First Nations Elders about First Nations knowledge. “A lot of our programming really is inclusive of culture, language and history,” said Peeteetuce.

“It’s very much approached with a cultural foundation. We have an Elder at our building so he is the one leading the way in terms of teachings from the culture,” he added.

Fox said, “I think (the HBO mini-series) holds more relevance in the story they’re telling and what kind of value it has. It is a little more significant and has more credibility. I trust this more than I would an Adam Sandler production in terms of artistic credibility.”

Associate Professor of Indigenous Literature at First Nations University of Canada, Dr. Jesse Archibald-Barber said, “There’s a saying in comedy that nothing is sacred,” and when asked about the Sandler movie, he added, “I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t comment on the exact context of the humour.  However, judging from Adam Sandler’s previous films, it is highly unlikely that the insulting humour is elevated to the level of satire or a critique of Hollywood Indian stereotypes.”

The idea of the “Romanticized Indian” has existed in Hollywood movies since the dawn of the big screen, from Disney to Eastwood and not too much has changed in that department. “One would think that after the debacle of Disney’s Lone Ranger (Hollywood) would have been more critical of the stereotypes, but clearly the early reports about this Sandler movie indicate that this is not the case,” said Archibald-Barber.

Archibald-Barber was quite clear on not making any assumptions towards the Sandler movie, however in terms of the HBO mini-series he stated, “Brad Pitt has recently been very involved in Native American communities, I believe trying to address the housing crisis there in a genuine way. We’ll see how this consideration translates onto the screen once it’s put through the Hollywood machine.”

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