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Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham Attend ‘Te Ata’ Premiere in Oklahoma

Native Star-power Graham Greene and Gil Birmingham at the Te Ata Movie Premiere

The worlds of Hollywood and the Chickasaw blended on September 13, when Chickasaw Nation Productions’ movie Te Ata premiered. Showing at the Art Deco-styled Warren Theater in Moore, Okla., over six screens were used to accommodate over 700 invited guests.

The Te Ata Premiere at the Warren Marquis - Photo: Brian Daffron

Present at the premiere were most of the main actors from the movie: Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, Cindy Pickett, Mackenzie Astin and Brigid Brannagh. Other notables in attendance included Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, as well as Oklahoma elected officials such as Gov. Mary Fallin and former Gov. Frank Keating.

Te Ata Cast and Chickasaw elected officials at the movie premiere. - Photo: Brian Daffron

The movie centers on the life of Chickasaw Nation tribal member Mary Frances “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher, played by  Q’orianka Kilcher. In the 1920’s, after training in theater—and being the first Native American student to enroll—at the Oklahoma College for Women, she found success on Broadway. However, she found no personal fulfillment. After drawing upon her Chickasaw roots, she gained worldwide fame as a traditional storyteller, and one of her biggest fans was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Greene’s role in the film is Chickasaw Nation Governor Douglas H. Johnston, Te Ata’s uncle. Greene says working with the Chickasaw Nation was a highly positive experience, and he was sold on the project after reading the script.

“It was one of those scripts where you just keep flipping the pages,” he said. “You can’t put it down.”

The premiere was the first chance for Greene to see the entire film. He said the chemistry between Kilcher as Te Ata and the portrayal of Te Ata’s parents by Birmingham and Brannagh is highly convincing.

“It melded together like they have always been a family,” Greene said. “There wasn’t anything that didn’t say they weren’t a family, to me, in that film.”

Pickett, who is known to many for her iconic role as Ferris Bueller’s mother, portrayed Miss Davis, Te Ata’s drama teacher. 

“To me, [Te Ata] is a tale of never giving up, of finding mentors who will teach you and guide you into the right path, and be proud of your gifts,” she said.

According to Gov. Anoatubby, Te Ata was an important figure in Chickasaw history who worked to maintain the culture of the Chickasaw Nation as well as the other tribes in the country.

Anoatubby also credits Te Ata as influencing the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration to change federal policy such as signing the Indian Reorganization Act.

Te Ata is the second full-length production for Chickasaw Nation, with the first being Pearl, the life story of the Chickasaw aviation pioneer Pearl Carter Scott. When the Chickasaw Nation hired its producer, Paul Sirmons, “the Chickasaw Nation made it clear that they wanted to shoot it in Oklahoma,” he said. Through locations that included the Oklahoma Railway Museum, downtown Guthrie, Okla. and the Guthrie Masonic Temple, as well as historic buildings within the Chickasaw Nation tribal jurisdictions, the use of all-Oklahoma locations was possible.

Anoatubby said Te Ata will screen cities within Chickasaw Nation such as Ada, Ardmore and Tishomingo, as well as Tulsa, before returning to the Warren Theater location in Moore. Future projects for Chickasaw Nation Productions include a movie on the Chickasaw in the 1700’s, as well as a project known tentatively as “Chickasaw Rancher.”

“This is one of the most important things we can do is to capture and preserve this story about Te Ata,” Anoatubby said.