It’s tough for a Native actor to get cast for a role that wasn’t specifically designed for a Native. That’s just one more reason we should consider it a major success that Adam Beach was cast in Suicide Squad, a DC Comics film starring Will Smith that debuted last week.
Indian Country is more accustomed to seeing Beach as Native American characters, such as Squanto, Ira Hayes, Victor Joseph and Kicking Wing.
The 43-year-old Saulteaux has already acted in 84 projects, with another planned to be released this year and two more in 2017.
Whether you’re just discovering Beach’s talents or you’re a Native acting buff, here are eight films helped him become the face of his generation:
Suicide Squad - Photo: DC Comics / Warner Bros.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Get to the theater now! Beach’s role as Slipknot, a mercenary adept at using ropes that allows him to scale any wall or immobilize his opponents, is worth the ticket.
Critics suggest otherwise, as the movie has rated poorly on sites like RottenTomatoes and Metacritic -- and yes we would have liked to see much more of Slipknot -- but don’t let that deter you from the aforementioned advancement in Native acting.
Smoke Signals (1998)
“Hey, Victor!” is a line that entered the Native American lingo after Beach’s role as Victor Joseph in Chris Eyre’s adaptation of a Sherman Alexie novel.
The film focused on Beach's character as he sets out on a mission to retrieve his father’s ashes, leaving the Coeur d’Alene Reservation for the southwest. (Easter Egg: It’s also worth another viewing to see the cameos by John Trudell and Jim Boyd, two well-known Native entertainers who died this past year.)
Flags of our Fathers (2006)
Ira Hayes became a symbol for military veteran pride in the American Indian community after his service, with the iconic flag-raising image.
Beach landed the role in the Clint Eastwood film, which centers on the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima.
One couldn’t help but laugh at Beach’s role as Kicking Wing, a fireworks salesman, that intentionally stereotypes American Indians.
The comedy, anchored by David Spade, follows a mullet-bearing young man who searches for his parents, who left him decades before during a trip to the Grand Canyon.
Nicolas Cage and Adam beach in the Windtalkers movie poster
Navajo code talkers were critical to America’s success during World War II. Beach plays the lead code talker in the John Woo film that stars Nicolas Cage.
Natives everywhere experienced a “gotcha” line after Beach’s character, Pvt. Ben Yahzee, responds to a fellow soldier calling him “Chief.” That moment is worth another screening in itself.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee(2007)
The TV movie, which was nominated for a Golden Globe award, delivers a dramatic take on the transitionary period in the 1860s in which Native Americans left the old ways to join American society.
Beach’s character, Charles Eastman, is a Sioux doctor who received a college education and serves as a success story for pro-assimilation. Sitting Bull and Red Cloud, played by August Schellenberg and Gordon Tootoosis, are depicted in the film as part of the conflict.
Dance Me Outside(1994)
This film served as Beach’s coming out party in the minds of many, though Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale could have a case.
This one is about as cult of a film as Indian country can get and Beach’s supporting role as Frank Fencepost fits nicely in the collage of characters.
Because we’re success-starved in most sports, we love hypotheticals in Indian country. And there was no better hockey “what if” than this comedy-drama, which pits the New York Rangers against an amateur team from Alaska.
Though Beach doesn’t get much screen-time, it pays great homage to the sport of hockey, a sport which Indian country thrives in.
Follow Adam Beach on Twitter - @adamruebenbeach
Cary Rosenbaum (Colville) is a correspondent and columnist for Indian Country Today. He can be contacted via Twitter @caryrosenbaum.