Wes Studi stars as the title character of the new comedy short Ronnie BoDean, written and directed by Steven Paul Judd. Ronnie is a larger-than-life, badass urban Indian who is not perfect; he smokes, he drinks, he doesn’t keep a lot of nutritional food in the refrigerator, and some might question his morality. After seeing his neighbor arrested, he becomes de facto babysitter for her two children for the afternoon. He takes he the opportunity to teach them a valuable life lesson: how to hustle three-card monty. In this microcosm world, as in the world of casinos, the Indian simply wants to engage their white brethren in a friendly game of chance.
Judd, a Kiowa/Choctaw filmmaker and artist (and former casino worker), set out to create a reservation-cool Indian character that Native Americans could identify with, but who would also appeal to a general audience. The 12 minute film explodes with Native American in-jokes that will fly over the heads of many non-Indian viewers, like a pack of "Smoke Signal" brand cigarettes, created as a Tarantino-esque "Red Apple Cigarettes"-style nod to executive producer Chris Eyre’s classic film, or simple details like an Indian blanket covering the ripped up upholstery in Ronnie’s Rez/muscle car.
Studi, Cherokee, is of course an icon of Native American culture. His acting career tracks the changes that have taken place for Native Americans in the movie business: Over the last couple decades, Natives started to creating films about themselves, and Hollywood began to make some headway in presenting a more authentic and positive image of the American Indian. Studi sees Ronnie BoDean as the next step in his portrayal of the Native American.
“Steven contacted me and said he had this great idea, so I invited him for lunch,” Studi said. “What struck me was he was talking about creating a character that was an anti-hero sort. We talked about how, in the case of Native Americans, all our stuff seems to be directed toward making us look like really good guys all the time, but we know that’s not how we all are; we live life in the same world that everybody else does.
“Steven and I talked about how Jason Lee’s character, on the series My Name is Earl, had always been in trouble and was working toward finding his way out of that. The idea was to create a character for our own uses that could resonate with everybody, and I think that’s what our little film has going for it; our people can empathize with a character like him. Everybody probably has an uncle or brother that is very much like him; maybe even a father.”
Once Studi agreed to be in the project, Judd created a successful Kickstarter campaign and they were shooting within weeks. “Steven knows his stuff, he’s a good writer, and he hits a lot of points that ring true. He assembled some people there who were familiar with the business and we were able to shoot it in a few days. There’s really no difference between a big budget film and a little budget film; it’s the story that counts, and the kind of shots you get are the result of people who are experienced in this medium.”
Both Studi and Judd are looking at this short as a starting point for either a future television show or a feature film that can cross over from Native cinema into the mainstream. Studi believes in it enough to help in finding producers for the next project. “What we’ve got here is an antihero akin to ‘The Dude’ (from The Big Lebowski) you know? America loves its antiheroes, the squeaky clean guy is brushed aside very quickly, in terms of attention; it’s the more interesting characters that aren’t always in the right, or don’t always do the right thing, but you know, it’s a their-hearts-are-true kind of thing. That really sums up most people, when it comes down to it, nobody is really totally bad or totally good. That’s the kind of characters that audiences identify with, and hopefully, one day, we’ll be one of those kind of characters.”
When asked if they planned to approach Netflix, to see if they would take the project on to compensate for their controversial production of Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six, Studi laughed and said “I think it’s funnier than anything Sandler does.”
Ronnie BoDean recently played to sold out audiences at Oklahoma City’s deadCenter Film Festival. It will also play at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Native Cinema Showcase at the Santa Fe Indian Market in August, with more dates and festivals will be announced very soon on the Ronnie BoDean facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/ronniebodean