It has been almost half a century since Marlon Brando famously declined an Oscar for The Godfather due to Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. Now, 46 years since the iconic moment, a change has finally happened.
Wes Studi has been given the honorary award for career achievement, and it has been noted as long overdue, and of course, well deserved.
He expressed on Twitter: “I am deeply honoured and humbled. I finally get to say “I’d like to thank the Academy.”
Hollywood’s immensely complicated relationship with Native Americans goes back to the earliest movies set in the Wild West. Aside from largely ignoring the presence of black cowboys – the industry stuck largely to negative, and more often than not, racist stereotypes of native people, often portraying them as heartless savages.
It is also suggested that the film industry in Hollywood often plundered real stories of minority cowboys as material for some of its films in order to gain the highest possible success ratings.
The award comes as a huge sign of positivity that Native Americans are on the up in finally getting the recognition and appreciation they deserve. This event comes after unprecedented numbers of native Americans ran for public office in 2018, with a record number of them being female.
The native population in the States is significantly younger than the average American and numbers are rising fast – more than five million identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native, with about 78% living off reservation.
It goes without say that Wes Studi, now aged 71, was deserving of the award many years ago. He has been a hardworking man for the entirety of his life, studying in Chilocco Indian School, fighting in Vietnam, and ultimately overcoming great odds to succeed.
It’s regrettable that to work in the mainstream media Studi has had to be in some heavily stereotyped movies, such as Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves and Last of the Mohicans.
Colonialism itself is full of ironies. In this case it is notably ironic that the first Native Oscar goes to a man who has achieved success often playing an “Indian chief”, when the reality is, in a great many native communities, women often played key roles in diplomacy and war throughout history.
That being said it is fantastic news that Studi, a superbly talented actor, a charismatic producer, a loyal veteran and a credit to his Cherokee people, has finally been provided with the recognition he deserves.
Lets hope this is the first in a new wave of understanding, acceptance and forward thinking for Hollywood.