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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 12, 2002- Issue 53


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Native American Entertainers Seeking the Spotlight

by Sadie Jo Smokey The Arizona Republic
credits: Happy Frejo sings a song she wrote, in front of an unfinished self-portrait. The actor performed in a talent search for Native Americans. Photo by Jerry Foreman
Happy Frejo sings a song she wroteShan Redhouse-Baldwin grew up wondering why Native Americans on TV had blue eyes.

"We used to have a lot of questions for my mom," says Redhouse-Baldwin, 28, a Navajo who grew up in Arizona and Utah.

"They used to film Westerns in Monument Valley. They were right there on the reservation, and they still didn't use Native American (actors)."

Today, Redhouse-Baldwin is a model in Tucson and part of a growing movement to persuade the entertainment industry to hire more Native Americans. They want to portray characters with depth, variety and emotions, not the stereotypical savages in period pieces filmed on the reservation.

To make nationwide connections, Redhouse-Baldwin and five other Arizonans entered the Four Directions Talent Search, sponsored by NBC and the Oneida Indian Nation of New York. The search was held in September and early October in Denver and Seattle.

Though none made it to the semifinals, they made contacts and are eager to try again next year.

"I don't care who wins as long as we get Native Americans on TV. We're modern, too," stage actress Happy Frejo says. "I want to do commercials."

Since moving to Tempe, Ariz., from Oklahoma, Frejo has acted in three plays and joined a band. Now that she knows what the judges at the talent search want, she'll be ready for next year's competition.

"To me, it feels kind of natural (to be onstage)," she says. "It's my chance to be someone else."

Debra Utacia Krol of Phoenix doesn't want to be an actress. She wants to work behind the scenes. "I would love to get a scriptwriting job for one of these dramas, 'Star Trek,' 'Law & Order' or one of those franchises," says Utacia Krol, a member of the Salinan tribe who submitted a screen treatment for "Law & Order" and a short story to the contest.

For those who don't want to move to New York or Los Angeles, there are acting opportunities in the Phoenix area, says actress Cecelia James, a Navajo and one of the few Native Americans in the region to have agency representation. She's built a career doing theater, commercials, voice-overs and poster prints. She recently finished acting in a video about preventing diabetes in the Navajo community.

Having an agent helps actors learn the business. With unions, auditions and contracts, it's a lot more than just looking good.

"Continue your education in the business," James says. "Do a lot of networking and do a lot of plays. Take classes, go to auditions, have different looks and apply for different roles."

Sonny Skyhawk, founder and chairman of American Indians in Film and Television, says he's not surprised by the roles Native Americans get. Skyhawk, a Sicangu Lakota from South Dakota, got his start in Westerns 30 years ago.

Among the more recent films he consulted for and acted in are "Geronimo: An American Legend" and "Young Guns II."

"I'm one of the old dinosaurs who did Westerns years ago in Tucson," Skyhawk says. "There's a whole crew of Indians waiting for Westerns to come back. All the American Indian actors in Phoenix and Tucson worked their butts off riding horses, falling off horses, dressed in full regalia in 110-degree heat. They were the grunts, with the white guy playing the Indian."

Skyhawk is one of the industry professionals working with the Oneida Nation in searching for Native American talent. Skyhawk says that, of the 10,000 national members of the Screen Actors Guild, maybe 350 are Native American. He hopes this talent search increases those numbers and the diversity of work.

"This movie business is very serious business," Skyhawk says. "Hollywood took so much creative license, defined who we were and rewrote history. The talent search is going to go far in finding Native American talent."

For more information:

Visit our web site to find out more about the next Four Directions Talent Search, or call the Oneida Nation at 315-361-6512.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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