Hollywood has a long way to go regarding diversity, but these Native actors are proving that the brightest stars always shine through the gloom. They’ve played villains and superheroes — from Aquaman to Geronimo — and are all far from the twilight of their careers, with buzzy projects coming soon to a very dark place near you. Unless you’re strictly a streamer.
Hunkiest Catch of the Sea - Jason Momoa
Jason Momoa as Aquaman in the upcoming Justice League - Warner Bros / DC Comics
If there was ever anyone who could turn a DC superhero known for wearing green and orange cool, it would be Jason Momoa, who will be doing just that as Aquaman in the highly anticipated The Justice League Part One set to be released in the fall of 2017.
After a brief and mysterious cameo in the Superman vs. Batman blockbuster in March, this Native Hawaiian hero has been stealing hearts everywhere, and will bring much-needed indigenous coolness to another DC franchise.
Since appearing in the TV series Baywatch back in 1999, Momoa has appeared on the television shows North Shore and Stargate: Atlantis. His Hollywood breakthrough began as the lead in the 2011 remake of Conan The Barbarian. Momoa parlayed that into a role in the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and the TV series The Red Road. He showed his writing and directing prowess with the 2014 film Road to Paloma, which he also starred in. His pace isn’t slowing down any either, with four films in post production, Justice League filming; and if Aquaman and his superhero counterparts maintain their success, Momoa will stand alone in Aquaman, tentatively announced for a 2018 release.
Easiest Way to Grab Some Quality Beach Time - Adam Beach
Adam Beach as Slipknot in the upcoming Suicide Squad - Warner Bros / DC Comics
Yes, he nailed it in Flags of Our Fathers portraying the emotionally distraught and war-worn Pima Indian Ira Hayes. And yes, Adam Beach will forever be known as the young actor who brought rez life to the mainstream with Smoke Signals. But Indian country is chomping at the bit to see Beach as one of the nefarious super-villains forced to fight for good in the upcoming Suicide Squad.
As Slipknot, Beach will be playing a trained assassin who happens to be a master with ropes, thus his name. Suicide Squad hits theaters this August and though it may be the most anticipated role on his calendar, Beach has two other films set for 2016 releases as well.
This Saulteaux actor’s climb to such heights included appearing in such diverse projects as Kicking Wing, from the David Spade comedy Joe Dirt, the network series Law & Order: SVU, the HBO series Big Love and the Canadian TV series Arctic Air.
The Ever Impressive Mohawk Girl - Kawennáhere (Devery) Jacobs
Devery Jacobs in The Sun at Midnight
Born and raised on the Mohawk reservation of Kahnawake, Kawennáhere (Devery) Jacobs is arguably best-known for her leading role as Aila in the award-winning film Rhymes for Young Ghouls. That role got her nominated for Best Actress at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards.
Jacobs has also been featured in Exploding Sun with Julia Ormond, Lionsgate Television’s The Dead Zone, as well as the wildly popular television series Mohawk Girls. And for those millions of The Walking Dead fans, Jacobs was the voiceover actress of Samantha in The Walking Dead: Michonne video game.
She has an impressive list of upcoming projects, including her lead role in The Sun at Midnight. She also grabbed the supporting role of Andrea in The Land of Rock and Gold. Of special note is Devery’s ambitious short film project entitled STOLEN, about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada, which she got funded through fundraising sites, and is currently in post-production.
How to Improve With a “Dreadful” Performance - Wes Studi
Wes Studi as Kaetenay in Penny Dreadful - Showtime Networks Inc
Few Native actors have played the wide range of Native historical figures and contemporary fictional characters tackled by Cherokee Nation citizen actor Wes Studi. A partial list includes his roles in Dances With Wolves, The Last of The Mohicans, Geronimo: An American Legend, Heat, Avatar and Being Flynn.
In March, when he spoke to ICTMN about his latest role as the Native American mystical character of Kaetenay on Showtime's Penny Dreadful, Studi said the role has introduced him to a vibrant new fan base, made of devotees of science-fiction, comic-con and cosplay. He says his role in the show as the Native and mystical father of a Werewolf is a huge departure from things he has done before – aside from the fact that he is playing Apache again. “It is fabulous and I have to say that fan base is fantastically wild and weird. I haven't had this much fun on a series for a good long while.”
Studi continues to be a mainstay in the industry with one film in post-production for this year, five more in pre-production into 2017.
Follow Arts and Entertainment Editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling