Friday, June 17, Kalani Queypo hosted a FYC (For Your Consideration) panel discussion on creating, collaborating, and changing Hollywood. The evening’s panel consisted of Kalani, Jason Gavin – TV writer for projects such as Friday Night Lights and chair of the WGA – American Indians Writer’s Committee, DeLanna Studi – chair of the SAF/AFTRA National Native American Committee, Teri Weinberg – Executive Producer of Saints and Strangers, Rene Haynes – casting director, who most recently consulted on the Native American casting for The Revenant and was moderated by Julianna Serrano who worked with ALARM to ban all Native American mascots in California. The sold-out event was held at the Autry Museum of the American West at Griffin Park in Los Angeles.
Kalani, a very talented Native American (Blackfeet/Hawaiian) in his own right and founding member of the SAG-AFTRA National Native American Committee, has most recently starred in National Geographic’s production, Saints and Strangers portraying the iconic Native American, Squanto. When TNWU spoke to Kalani last week (see our interview here) he told us that he was excited by the National Geographic project because it showed Native Americans as real people, with a sophisticated political system as well as a deeply ingrained faith rather than the stereotypical Native that Hollywood has been guilty of using in the past and in their casting decisions. This project, with its emphasis on an accurate portrayal of Native Americans, has been welcomed by the Native community and Kalani and his peers are hopeful that this is the beginning of a new trend in Hollywood writing and casting.
Everything about the production of Saints and Strangers was carefully considered and the end result has been generating Emmy buzz for Kalani (#EmmysGoNative, #EmmyForKalani, #Emmys2016). This is beyond exciting because if he is nominated, he will be only the fourth Native American Actor in the history of the Emmys (86 years!) to be nominated for an award. No Native American has won an Emmy… yet.
Julianna led the panel through a series of discussion points that served to highlight not only the issue of diversity in casting but also to offer suggestions as well as hope for the future. Focusing on the production of Saints and Strangers the panel covered everything from spoken language to body language and humor. Each story told by the panelists served to highlight just how important it is to the Native American community itself to see themselves accurately depicted and honored in film and on TV. There is so much of Native American culture and philosophy that remains unknown to the majority of people in the US and across the world. It is high time this hole in our own history gets filled with accurate information. All people are deserving of respect and the first step is correcting the inaccuracies perpetuated by the entertainment industry.
Saints and Strangers has not only been acclaimed by Native Americans as well as Americans in general, it has also already received quite a bit of press surrounding the Emmy nomination process. As mentioned above, Kalani’s portrayal of Squato is one of the areas that has been receiving heavy Emmy buzz. When asked about what that would mean to not only himself, but to Native Americans across the nation, Kalani had this to say:
Listen, winning an Emmy nomination alone, is incredible. On an individual level, an acknowledgment of one’s career, it feels good. That’s pretty awesome, right? I feel like it goes beyond what it would do for my career, and all of the opportunities. I think about all of the people who have come before me. I’ve been on their shoulders. I think of all the Native kids that maybe would be watching the Emmys – to see a Native actor nominated for an Emmy makes it within reach for them, makes it a possibility. It gives them permission to dream because if they see somebody that looks like them, if they see somebody that reminds them of their people, they see someone in a portrayal that makes them proud. I feel like it’s a part of my legacy, it’s a part of what I can do as a single person to bring about an awareness, a consciousness, a modern approach to Native Americans in the industry. Man, a mere nomination is already a victory for our people. That’s how it makes me feel.
Of course, TNWU wishes Kalani and Saints and Strangers the very best of luck in the nomination process, however, awards are just one way in which Hollywood judges the popularity of an idea or trend. I would like to urge everyone reading this to go to the National Geographic YouTube channel and watch the videos posted. There are clips from the series as well as interviews and BTS action. Let’s show Kalani, Jason, DeLanna, Rene and Teri that we, the average TV/movie consumer, are ready to embrace and learn about other cultures even as we are being entertained. Money is king in Hollywood – let’s show them that we’ll back projects with diverse casting and characters. We all live in a global society now and only by beginning to embrace our country’s own diverse societies we will be able to open ourselves to other people across the globe.
It is time to broaden our expectations of the entertainment industry and task them with showing us real portrayals of other cultures. Understanding each other is essential in order to begin to respect each other. Congratulations to National Geographic and the diverse cast of Saints and Strangers for leading the way toward diversity and for honoring the real people who make up our Native American communities.
Show your support for Kalani and Saints and Strangers by reading more about the project at National Geographic here.
Video of the event is below. The conversation is both interesting and informative and definitely, a must see.
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