New Period Western Film Promotes Discussion About the Native American Experience

For both Wes Studi, a Native American actor who plays Yellow Hawk, a dying Cheyenne war chief, and Q’Orianka Kilcher, an American actress who plays Yellow Hawk’s wife Elk Woman, director Scott Cooper’s new film Hostiles portrays Native Americans in a positive light.

The period Western centers on surly army captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), who reluctantly agrees to escort Yellow Hawk and his family back to their tribal lands.

It opens area-wide on Friday, Jan. 26.

Thanks to a fine performance by the always-intense Bale and some stunning cinematography, the film successfully captures an early American experience and shows just how dangerous the West once was.

“I think the film brings about discussion, which is always important,” says Kilcher during a recent phone interview when asked about its depiction of Native Americans. “Through discussion, we become more educated. It’s a step in the right direction. We do have a long road ahead of us when it comes to Native American stories being told. I would love to see more stories told from the perspective of Native Americans. Maybe that just means we need some awesome up-and-coming Native American filmmakers to be inspired by watching filmmakers like Scott Cooper and watching incredible performances by Native American actors. It’s our responsibility to take steps in the right direction and break down cultural barriers and continuously strive to do better and educate people.”

Studi, a Cherokee actor and producer who starred with Kilcher and Bale in the 2005 film The New World, agrees.

“The only thing I would say is that I wish we knew a little more about the inner workings of the family group,” he says in a separate interview. “Other than that, I think our participation was well done.”

Violence occurs at every turn in the film as the group travels from Fort Berringer, an isolated outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana. Along the way, Blocker and Co. encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was murdered on the plains. She joins them as they battle the vicious Comanche while proceeding through some incredibly rugged terrain.

“I think everyone was as violent as they were depicted in this film — no more so the Comanche than anyone else,” says Studi when asked about the film’s emphasis on scalpings and bloody shootouts. “They were doing the things that they did in our story for the right reasons. They were ridding their land of encroachment. That’s what their lifestyle demanded at the time.”

Cooper filmed in Colorado and all throughout New Mexico. The shoots often involved drastic changes in elevation, and Mother Nature threw some serious obstacles at the cast and crew on a regular basis.

“We faced all sorts of elements,” says Kilcher. “There were many times that we had to stop because of lightening. There were dust storms and rain storms. We went through it all.”

Ultimately, Kilcher says she hopes people who watch the film realize the “hostile” lurks inside us all.

“I hope that people stop and take a look at themselves,” she says. “For me, it’s a looking-in-the-mirror movie about looking at your own reflection. We could all be hostiles, depending on the situation. If you demonize someone, what happens when you turn the tables and put yourself in that person’s shoes? Would you act any differently or would you act the same way? It’s a timeless message relevant to what is going on in our country today and in the rest of the world.”

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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