Hollywood has long had a diversity problem, and not just with sexism. Danny Woodburn has complained of the lack of roles for actors with disabilities, a group that makes up nearly one-fifth of the US population. #OscarsSoWhite complains that the average movie hero is a white, male heterosexual. LGBTQIA groups make the same complaint. How did Wonder Woman do with other forms of diversity and inclusion?
Wonder Woman passed the Bechdel test with flying colors. It has not only a female star, but plenty of female supporting characters who do more than stand around and look pretty: General Antiope (Robin Wright), Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Etta Candy (Lucy Davis). Some of the Amazons, including a senator, were of African heritage rather than Greek. (Slight spoiler) Diana leaves Themyscira, the home of the Amazons, and goes to Europe, where WWI is taking place. There she sees Sikh soldiers in King George’s uniform, and meets some friends of Steve Trevor’s, including Sameer, who is Mideastern, and “the Chief,” who is Native American.
Jake Young pointed out that the Chief, played by Eugene Brave Rock, is a somewhat racist, or at least stereotypical, characterization of a Native American. His name is never given, just the nickname Chief. At one point, he uses a traditional Native American method to communicate with the rest of his friends.Vincent Schilling, who proudly describes himself as a Native Nerd, has a different opinion of Eugene Brave Rock as the Chief.
Brave Rock had told ICMN previously that he was permitted by director Patty Jenkins to choose what he wore, who fully respected the need for proper regalia and clothing. I was filled with pride and tears of joy as I watched him act in a way that would bring admiration and respect to his fans and the people and cultures of Indian country. His character could have exited for good at that point and I would have walked away thrilled. Then something magical unfolded: Brave Rock continued to play a significant role of the film. I watched in awe as one of my own people continued to act heroically in an amazing movie.
Eugene Brave Rock is a First Nations actor, stunt man, and musician of the Kainai Nation in Canada. For six out of the past seven years, he has participated in the Calgary Stampede, where he rode in “parades and acted as inspiration for younger natives, who he encourages to maintain their ties to their culture.” When the Chief first meets Wonder Woman, he greets her by speaking Blackfoot. “He introduced himself as Napi, the Blackfoot demi-god who is known as a trickster and a storyteller.” (This could also be a tip of the hat to his 2011 short film First World: A Blackfoot Story, where he played Napi.)
Kaitlyn Booth pointed out the importance of gender and ethnic representation in movies. It makes a difference, especially to youngsters, to see someone like them in movies or on TV as more than just a stereotype. Was the Chief a role model for Native American and First Nations viewers? 1918 was not a year known for political correctness. A Native American being nicknamed Chief in those days was historically accurate. (In the Happy Hollisters series of children’s books, published from 1953 to 1969, no one saw anything wrong with Mr. Hollister’s Native American salesclerk being nicknamed Indy.)
Racism or representation? What did you think of “the Chief” in Wonder Woman? Sound off in the comments section below.