LOS ANGELES – New Mexico’s Wes Studi will take the stage at today’s Oscars to present an award. But the actor, among the few Native Americans included in the ceremony’s 90-year history, has reason to feel like a winner.
“I see it as an acceptance of my participation in the business over a number of years,” Studi said from his home in Santa Fe. “It’s like being invited to the party.”
It also signifies something larger, said Studi, whose credits include “Avatar,” “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Dances With Wolves.”
“It’s a time when we’re all hopefully embracing the diversity of the world we live in, and Hollywood has a way of reflecting that,” he said.
He may be the first American Indian presenter at the Oscars, Studi said, a possibility echoed by Sonny Skyhawk, an actor and longtime activist. Academy librarians were unable to confirm that, because presenters aren’t tracked.
But the academy acknowledged that a scant number of Native Americans have taken part in the ceremony since it was launched – although famed humorist Will Rogers, who was of Cherokee heritage, did host in 1934.
Nominations have gone to three Native Americans, all Canadian, including actors Chief Dan George in 1971 for “Little Big Man” and Graham Greene in 1991 for “Dances With Wolves” and musician Buffy Sainte-Marie in 1983 for the original song “Up Where We Belong,” which won the Oscar.
When “Dances with Wolves” won for adapted screenplay, writer Michael Blake invited film consultant Doris Leader Charge to join him onstage. She also translated his remarks into Lakota Sioux.
There was one unexpected appearance: In 1973, actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather subbed for Marlon Brando at his request, rejecting his best-actor award for “The Godfather.” Brando had said his decision to refuse the trophy was, in part, to protest the depiction of Native Americans on-screen.
All ethnic groups face stereotyping in movies and on TV, but American Indians also have stubbornly scant opportunities as well. That’s in contrast to recent African-American progress with films including this year’s best-picture nominee “Get Out” and last year’s winner “Moonlight.”
“I’ve been advocating for our stories and images for 40 years,” said Skyhawk, whose credits include “Young Guns II.”
Studi, asked if he intended to use his moment in the spotlight, said he has no “grand statements” planned: “It’s enough of a statement to be there.”
Skyhawk concurred, adding, “It’s been a long time coming.” But he hopes for more.
“Until we get to a point where we’re offered roles that are academy-worthy, are Golden Globe-worthy, we’re going to be on the outside, looking in,” he said.
The Oscars will be telecast beginning at 6 p.m. MST on ABC and hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.