We’ve been watching the TV series Yellowstone these past couple of weeks. It’s well-acted and the writing is intense, violence always threatened to break out anywhere. The series is supposedly set in Montana and near Bozeman. Indeed some of the street scenes are of Bozeman, meaning a movie crew did some filming there, but without the actors in the series.
The series stars Kevin Costner as owner of the Yellowstone John Dutton Ranch, a massive complex that appears to be located in Paradise Valley near Livingston, Montana. In real life, the outdoor sequences were filmed near Darby, Montana, a small town located near the far western border of the state. Indoor sequences are shot on massive sound stages in Park City, Utah.
This post has very little to do with that series. But I will mention one scene. Monica Dutton is a Native American, the wife of Kayce Dutton, John’s son. In one scene she is in a fancy dress shop looking for clothing, and the owner or employee is watching her closely because she is Native. She sets it up to make it look like Monica stole a necklace, and the police are called.
She is guilty until proven innocent, and the police force her to undress in front of them to prove she is not hiding anything. She calls John Dutton’s daughter, Beth, who is in the downtown area, and Beth comes and tears up the joint, and everyone regrets having crossed Monica. The store owner confesses that it was all because of the color of her skin.
Monica, seen to the right here, is not even made up to look Native, and is actually whiter than the store owner! There goes willing suspension of disbelief.
Kate Asbille, the actress who plays Monica, is of Chinese descent.
She and Kayce have a son, Tate, who I could not find out much about, but who is supposedly half Native, and is whiter than white.
The part of Thomas Rainwater, tribal leader on the nearby reservation, is played by Gil Birmingham, who at least has some Comanche in him, and therefore looks somewhat Native.
Other actors who have played Native Americans are not Native. In the series Longmire, the part of Henry Standing Bear is played by Lou Diamond Phillips, who is Filipino and Scotch.
Jacob Nighthorse, owner of an Indian casino in Longmire, is the prduct of a Mexican father and an American mother from South Carolina.
Indeed, these are all good actors. and I know the reasons for not choosing Native Americans to play Native American parts … dare I say it? Kate Asbille is a beautiful woman of Asian descent, and Lou Diamond Phillips is an attractive part-Asian man whose skin tone is dark enough to pull that off.
People of different races are often not attractive to one another, and that is as far as I can go without treading in racist waters. It is a difficult subject to broach, but the reason that Asbille was chosen for the part of Monica was for viewership’s sake, that white audiences want beautiful women in key roles. So they chose a Chinese woman and gave her a Native name: Monica Long Spear.
There was in the Longmire series one Native American character that was actually played by a Native: Graham Greene, who played the truly evil Malachi Strand. He’s a great actor, with a career that has spanned decades. He played Kicking Bird in Costner’s Dances With Wolves.
It has been this way from the beginning of Hollywood, Native Americans played by actors usually of European descent. Native Americans need not apply.
Of course, there was a need for an Indian Chief in the movie Blazing Saddles. That part was played, for laughs I must remind you, by Mel Brooks, who spoke not Sioux, but Yiddish. Brooks appears as the Indian Chief at about 1:15 in the above clip.