Native actors and John Legend, Oprah shine in animated film: ‘Crow: The Legend'
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, Baobab Studios have recently released a CGI-short / experiential Virtual Reality film that the studios is calling “the first VR movie to incorporate an indigenous worldview.”
‘Crow: The Legend’ was directed, written and produced by Eric Darnell, the creator of such mega-blockbuster hits as Antz and the Madagascar movies and was executive-produced, and voiced by singer and songwriter John Legend. The other main characters include Oprah Winfrey, as The One who Creates Everything by Thinking; Kiowa-Caddo as the Tribal Elder; Randy Edmonds as the Narrator; Sarah Eagle Heart as Luna, Liza Koshy as the Owl; Diego Luna as the Moth; Tye Sheridan as the Turtle; and Constance Wu as the Skunk.
Constance Wu as Skunk, Liza Koshy as Owl and John Legend as Crow, courtesy Boabab Studios.
According to the studio release, ‘Crow is based on the moving Native American story about the bird’s cultural genesis and its place in Native American mythology.’
Sarah Eagle Heart who portrayed the part of Luna and is the CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy consulted on the film. She took a moment to answer a few questions via email about her participation and experiences in the making of Crow: The Legend.
Vincent Schilling: What did you do in the confines of consulting on this short film?
Sarah Eagle Heart: I was involved with reviewing early versions of the VR piece. I provided feedback on the characters and storylines, and also served as a liaison with tribal communities with the intent of making sure tribal communities felt comfortable with both the process and the project as a whole. The team attended multiple powwows and had a number of discussions with various members of tribal communities.
Vincent Schilling: Was the creative team receptive to your guidance/consultation?
Sarah Eagle Heart: Absolutely! They were very receptive and did pay attention to my feedback.
Vincent Schilling: Were there any changes you suggested?
Sarah Eagle Heart: I suggested multiple changes and they were open to making them. There are a few examples, but one minor example is that The Constellation Shaped Like a Bird was flying in a different direction to the other characters at a certain point in the film. I felt that it was important to be able to fly with the constellation and they transitioned it to fly in the same direction as the other characters so we could all be flying together in the same direction.
Vincent Schilling: There is an impressive cast: John Legend, Oprah Winfrey, Kiowa-Caddo, Randy Edmonds, Liza Koshy, Diego Luna, Tye Sheridan, and Constance Wu. Did you meet or interact with any of the contributors to this short film?
Sarah Eagle Heart: I had the opportunity to meet and interact with Oprah, John, Randy, Liza, and Tye. I was really impressed with how talented each one of them was but even more impressed with their commitment to unity and inclusion. They were excited to learn and share the connection to Indigenous Worldview through this project.
Vincent Schilling: What is the importance to you in terms of ensuring films today -- with indigenous themes -- be accurately represented?
Sarah Eagle Heart: We’d never really had the opportunity like this to tell our stories, so we thought it was important to be involved with the storytelling process and the creative pathways involved with storytelling in this way. It’s the first time we’ve been able to share an Indigenous myth or legend on such a large scale – and with influencers that have audiences of millions of people.
During this process, Baobab and I discovered a scarcity of Native creators within the VR industry. This wasn’t due to lack of interest but rather an absence of opportunities. In response to this gap, Native Americans in Philanthropy partnered with Baobab, Visionmaker Media and Longhouse Media to create a fellowship to support building pathways for Native American youth in VR.
Vincent Schilling: It was a great film. What do you think of the finished piece?
Sarah Eagle Heart: I love the film. I really feel that in both the VR and the 2D project one actually gets to feel the emotionality of connecting the animals with the earth, sun, moon, and creator. For me, it’s a spiritually and emotionally transformative experience. And to participate in the pathways that Baobab has created to tell this story has been a very special and healing experience, as I expect it would be for people watching and interacting with the piece. I believe we have rewritten a bit of history by telling this story in this way.
Watch the short film here:
As described in the studio release:
Crow, once the most colorful and melodic animal in all the forest, must choose between himself and his fellow animals when tasked with saving them from an endless winter. Realizing he is their only hope, Crow ventures in seek of help but the arduous trek irrevocably damages his voice and stunning colors. Embarrassed by his physical transformation, Crow ultimately learns that his self-sacrifice is far more beautiful and important than his appearance. Indeed, the timelessness of the universal message is as relevant today as it was when the story was first told by many different tribes of indigenous people.
Crow is the first mainstream VR film to incorporate an indigenous world view, Darnell’s most groundbreaking and meaningful project in his over 30-year career. The decision to offer the movie in both VR and 2D formats is borne from a desire to bring awareness to a culturally-important story that has long lacked a platform, and to celebrate the many formats of animation.
Visit Baobab Studios online:
baobab studios | VR animation studio
Creating VR animation experiences to bring out your sense of wonder and inspire you to dream again.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter -@VinceSchilling
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