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Leading the way: Native American artists to discuss challenges, progress in entertainment inudstry

Santa Fe’s Wes Studi accepts an honorary Academy Award at the Governors Awards on Oct. 27, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Invision)

“I’d simply like to say, ‘It’s about time.'”

These were the iconic words spoken by New Mexico-based actor Wes Studi as he picked up an honorary Academy Award at the 2019 Governors Awards.

In that moment, Wes Studi became the first Native American actor to take home the award.

Sure, there have been Native American nominees before – Graham Greene for “Dances With Wolves” and Chief Dan George for “Little Big Man.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie was the lone Native American winner as she shared an Original Song Oscar for “Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer And A Gentleman.”

Yet it was Wes Studi, who, at 71, took home the award for his decadeslong career in film and TV.

Studi knows firsthand how difficult it is to be Native American and be seen in the film industry.

That’s why he will take part in “It’s About Time” at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.

New Mexico filmmaker Chris Eyre will moderate Silver Bullet Productions’ “It’s About Time” panel on Saturday, Nov. 21. (Courtesy of Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)

The event is presented by Santa Fe-based Silver Bullet Productions. It’s a fundraising panel discussion with Wes Studi, Tantoo Cardinal and DeLanna Studi. It will be moderated by Chris Eyre.

These prominent Native artists will discuss the challenges and progress they have experienced during their lengthy careers in the entertainment and film industry.

Maura Studi, event producer, says the event is a follow-up to Wes Studi’s speech at the Governors Awards.

DeLanna Studi is a proud citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She is an actor and playwright. (Courtesy of Silver Bullett Productions)

“The panel has exquisite artists who each have had their own journey,” Maura Studi says. “DeLanna is Wes’ niece, and she’s also chair of the SAG-AFTRA National Native American Committee.”

Maura Studi says each artist will speak about how they are seeing a changing face for Native American performers and being equal with other ethnicities.

SAG-AFTRA and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences have made strides to be more inclusive within each organization.

“Somehow Native people are something else,” Maura Studi says. “That’s part of the discussion. DeLanna has a lot to say about those issues. Each has a personal story of struggle within the industry.”

Throughout 48 years of cinematic performances, Cardinal has contributed more than 100 roles to film and television, including the feature films “Wind River” and “Legends of the Fall,” and such series as “Westworld,” “Godless” and “Longmire.”

Tantoo Cardinal in a scene from “Falls Around Her.” For decades, Cardinal has been an advocate for Native equality. (Courtesy of SFIFF)

In addition to acting, Cardinal has been a voice for Native communities when it comes to such global issues as land preservation and water.

“It hasn’t been easy,” she says. “I really value the experience. It’s an honor to be able to have the opportunity to have a voice in all of this. There are so many voices being heard on world issues. … We all have to pay attention and not stay silent. These are the types of movements and roles that I look for, something that has substance.”

Maura Studi grew up in show business; her father was Jack Albertson, who was an Emmy, Oscar and Tony award winner.

“It’s painful and infuriating to me that these struggles still exist,” she says. “I come from a show business family. It’s shocking to me on one level. Look at how long it’s taken to get Native performers seen as just people. I grew up in an era where everyone was white. If you were anything else, you were specifically hired to play a targeted stereotypical role.”

Maura Studi says the purpose of the event is to bring awareness and to inform people why their favorite Native actors aren’t being offered the kind of roles that everyone else is.

The funds that are being raised will help support Silver Bullet’s Native workshops for youths in New Mexico. It will also help back a new documentary.

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