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Race & Hollywood: Native American Images On Film
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Lakota Woman

Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994) is based on the autobiographical book by Mary Crow Dog, a half-white, half-Native woman whose difficult life growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and in a Catholic boarding school illustrated the continuing struggle of Native Americans against discrimination, abuse, and oppression. Members of Crow Dog's family had been at the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, a confrontation between U.S. troops and the Lakota in which nearly 150 Lakota were killed and many more froze to death in the three-day blizzard immediately following the conflict. In the early 1970s, Mary became involved with the American Indian Movement (AIM). Fed up with conditions on the reservation, the overall state of government corruption and betrayal, and what AIM saw as institutional policies of oppression, genocide and racism, the group occupied Wounded Knee in February 1973; they demanded investigations into misuses of tribal funds, the American government's policies toward the Oglala Sioux tribe, and the 371 treaties between the Native Nations and the federal government, all of which had been broken by the U.S. The conflict ended after 71 days, two deaths, and nearly 1200 arrests. Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee looks at all these events through Mary's eyes and was shot on location at various sites in South Dakota.<.

Viewers may not necessarily recognize the star of this made-for-TV movie by sight, but her voice should certainly ring a bell. Irene Bedard made her film debut in Lakota Woman as Mary Crow Dog; a year later she broke through to major success as the physical model for and voice of the title character in the Disney animated hit Pocahontas (1995). She voiced the character a few more times for video games and made-for-video features, and has lent her vocal talents to episodes of several animated television series, including The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest and The Spectacular Spider-Man.

Bedard has also appeared in a number of live-action films and TV movies. The daughter of an Inupiat Eskimo and a French Canadian/Cree, she has played Lakota more than once, as well as Patuxet, Navajo, Mashantucket, and Onandaga/Mohawk as Minnehaha, Longfellow's character in a film version of his famous poem, Song of Hiawatha (1997). Proving that Hollywood makes little distinction among Native American nations and tribes, she was also cast once again as Algonquian, playing Pocahontas's mother in The New World (2005), Terrence Malick's retelling of the Jamestown story, which was fictionalized in the earlier Disney film.

Bedard was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Mary Crow Dog. Lakota Woman was also nominated for the Humanitas Prize, an award created in 1974 "to celebrate television programs which affirm the dignity of the human person, explore the meaning of life, enlighten the use of human freedom and reveal to each person our common humanity." Lakota Woman also won the Bronze Wrangler Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

Director Frank Pierson started his career in 1960 as a writer on the Western television series Have Gun - Will Travel. His writing has earned him two Academy Award® nominations (Cat Ballou, 1965, and Cool Hand Luke, 1967) and one Oscar®, for Dog Day Afternoon (1975). He began his directorial career with a 1962 episode of Have Gun - Will Travel. Although most of his work has been for television, he also directed the theatrical features A Star Is Born (1976) and King of the Gypsies (1978), among others.

The cast of Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee boasts a number of Native American actors, including Joseph Runningfox as Mary's husband, Leonard Crow Dog, a Lakota medicine man and spiritual leader who revived the traditional Ghost Dance of his people for the first time in eight decades during the Siege at Wounded Knee and later served two years of a 21-year sentence for incidents connected to the siege. The Crow Dogs continued to be active in American Indian social issues and were heavily involved in helping the Navajo and Hopi fight forced relocation from their land on Big Mountain, Arizona. They later divorced and she reverted to her birth name Mary Brave Bird. Mary's son Pedro was the only child born at the occupied Wounded Knee during the siege.

Director: Frank Pierson
Producers: Lois Bonfiglio, Robert M. Sertner, Ari Sloane, Frank von Zerneck
Screenplay: Bill Kerby, based on the book by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes
Cinematography: Toyomichi Kurita, Christopher Tufty
Editing: Katina Zinner
Art Direction: Russell J. Smith
Original Music: Richard Horowitz
Cast: Irene Bedard (Mary Crow Dog), Joseph Runningfox (Leonard Crow Dog), Lawrence Bayne (Russell Means), Tantoo Cardinal (Mary's mother).
C-112m. Closed Captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Rob Nixon



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