Skip to main content

Michael Spears on 'The Activist,' Political Thriller Set in AIM Heyday

An interview with Lakota actor Michael Spears about his movie The Activist, playing at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco

Lakota actor Michael Spears will be hosting the Awards portion of 38th annual American Indian Film Festival this week in San Francisco, where he’s also been nominated for best supporting actor for his role in The Activist. In the film he portrays an American Indian Movement member during the turbulent 1973 Wounded Knee occupation. An intense political thriller directed by French director Cyril Morin, the film also includes Native co-star Tonantzin Carmelo-Best (Tongva and Kumeyaay), known for her role as Thunder Heart Woman in Steven Spielberg’s Into the West miniseries.

The Activist screens tonight (Sunday) at 7 PM at the Delancey Street Theater in San Francisco. For more information on the film, see its page at the AIFF website and

What's the plotline of The Activist?

Although it's fiction, they did find weapons grade uranium under the Black Hills -- this film is based off an actual report called the Sacrifice Zone that President Nixon signed off on. So it’s about two fictional characters wrapped up in the middle of it, but they do embody a lot of real life people that went through a lot of hardships from being torn from their families to being harassed by the federal government and agents. I don’t want to give away the whole movie! In the end there’s a shocker and some characters don’t make it, but it embodies the whole AIM. It’s hard, and it’s about fighting against a government that wanted to exterminate us since its founding.

How did French director Cyril Morin handle the AIM-related material?

He pretty much does only movies with a cause. He felt compelled to do this because it was a story that seems to be forgotten. It’s also about love, politics, and sacrifice. I got to work with him a little bit in the studio for the soundtrack, so you get to hear some of my music. [Michael Spears and his brother Eddie play in the Bear Canyon drum group. --Ed.]

Can you tell about your character, Bud "One Bull" Ward?

He embodies The Activist. He starts off as a rebel, and later you find out that he started an Indian immersion school and had that taken away from him. As a result he turns to the American Indian Movement as way to fight the problems that existed at Pine Ridge prior to 1973.

He’s pretty raw, and I can relate to the character. You can see a little bit of me in the character. He’s fierce, he doesn’t take no shit, and yet he has a calm about him at times that turns inward and doesn’t let a lot of emotions out. At the end of the film, you can see some of those raw emotions come out. I’m pretty proud of the film.