Monday, January 14, 2019

Michael Greyeyes' Latest Film Provides a "New Understanding of How History Repeats"

Above: Michael Greyeyes as Sitting Bull and Jessica Chastain as Catherine Weldon in the film Woman Walks Ahead.

I watched on Amazon Prime today a film I'd long wanted to see: Susanna White's 2017 biographical drama, Woman Walks Ahead. (You may recall I wrote about this film back in October of 2017.)

A major reason for my interest in this film is that it features an artist I greatly admire and respect: indigenous actor and dancer Michael Greyeyes (right). Michael has a prominent role in Woman Walk Ahead, playing Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (also known as Sitting Bull), the Hunkpapa Lakota leader who in the late 1800s led his people during years of resistance to United States government policies.

Interestingly, in the years that Woman Walks Ahead is set, much of this resistance took place on and around the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, the same location where, at the time of Woman Walks Ahead's filmimg, a groundswell of protest over the building of a new pipeline carrying “fracked” oil from the massive Bakken oil field was making international news.

Left: Protesters being attacked by police with tear gas – Standing Rock, November 2, 2016. (Photo: Johnny Dangers)

Woman Walks Ahead is based on the true story of Catherine Weldon, the widowed Brooklyn artist who in June 1889 traveled to the Dakota Territory to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull. She soon became embroiled in the Lakota peoples’ struggle over the rights to their land. Jessica Chastain plays Weldon. The film also features Sam Rockwell, Ciarán Hinds, Chaske Spencer, and Bill Camp.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2017. Shortly after, A24 and DirecTV Cinema acquired distribution rights to the film. Its U.S. premiere was at the Tribeca Film Festival last April, followed by a limited release on June 29, 2018

Since then, it has garnered what you could call average reviews. On Metacritic, for instance, which assigns a rating to reviews, Woman Walks Ahead has a weighted average score of 51 out of 100, based on 19 critics. A common critique is that it is yet another film about Native Americans from the point of view of a white protagonist.

Despite the film's mixed reviews, Michael Greyeyes received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Sitting Bull. The New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis calls his performance "a miracle of intelligence and dignity". contributor Susan Wloszczyna also offers praise, noting the Greyeyes portrayal is "the most subtle, soulful, and believable." Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times acknowledges that "[i]nhabiting the role of an icon of Native American resistance is no small feat, but Greyeyes, a Canadian actor of Plains Cree descent, draws you in with his wry wit and quiet gravity."

Above: Michael Greyeyes and Jessica Chastain
on the set of Woman Walks Ahead.

Michael Greyeyes is not unfamiliar with portraying famous historical figures. In 2009 he played Shawnee leader Tecumseh in the award-winning PBS series We Shall Remain, while in 1996 he played the title role in John Irvin's TV movie Crazy Horse (left). (For more about this film and the Oglala Lakota warrior and mystic Crazy Horse, click here, here, and here.) The events of Woman Walks Ahead take place around twelve years after the murder of Crazy Horse.

Back in November 2016, Greyeyes, in the CBC News story below, shared his hopes that in watching Woman Walks Ahead, audiences will learn about indigenous rights and the power of those who resist.

Michael Greyeyes says his role as Sitting Bull in the upcoming film Woman Walks Ahead is the most significant and important artistic endeavour he has undertaken.

"The humanity of Sitting Bull and how he represents a community in crisis is really gripping and I think people can't help but come in to a new understanding of how history works, how history repeats," said Greyeyes.

Greyeyes, an associate professor of performance and devised theatre at York University, will play in the film as Sitting Bull opposite Academy Award-nominated actress Jessica Chastain as Catherine Weldon.

He said he hopes the story find its audience and that people really appreciates what the story is about.

"I think they'll learn something really significant about Indigenous rights, about empowerment and the power of people who resist," Greyeyes said.

The film's screenplay was written by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) and is directed by Susanna White (Generation Kill). The film, currently in post-production, will be released in 2017.

Greyeyes said the film is set prior to the Wounded Knee Massacre, when the ghost dance ceremony was prevalent throughout the prairies.

"There was violence around each corner and I look at the United States right now and it's not dissimilar," Greyeyes said.

Greyeyes mentions an instance where he was reciting his lines, lines he says which were about not giving up ownership to the land. While he was saying his lines, he said he was very aware of the events unfolding around him such as the U.S. election and the protests in Standing Rock.

"For a movie that's been in the making for over a decade, it's timely beyond anything I could have imagined," he said.

Greyeyes thinks the movie has the potential to have a huge impact because of the way media is consumed now. He said people might read a book about what happened but actually seeing it will be a different experience.

"When you see it unfold in human terms, it grabs you in a different way," he said.

I found Woman Walks Ahead to be a very powerful and moving film. It's no masterpiece but it's far from "average." I give it a solid 8 out of 10 and lament the fact that it didn't get a wider theatrical release. Related to this point, I find myself wondering to what extent, if any, the political implications of the film's story in light of the ongoing struggle at Standing Rock and elsewhere, may have played in decisions about the film's release and promotion. I'll guess we'll never really know.

What we do know is that Woman Walks Ahead director Susanna White and actors Jessica Chastain, Michael Greyeyes and Sam Rockwell believe that their work does indeed relate to events at Standing Rock, and thus the phenomenon of history repeating. Following is a video of them talking about this at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Following is something of a retrospective of Michael Greyeyes' acting career. Enjoy!

Above: An early publicity shot of Michael Greyeyes (circa 1994).

Above: Michael as Gooch in Bruce McDonald's 1994 film, Dance Me Outside.

In an August 2016 interview with CBC's Candy Palmater, Michael reflected on his breakthrough film role.

The filmmakers, when they met me . . . you know, I'm Cree, I have kinda a smooth vibe when you meet me, and they were concerned that I couldn't play [Gooch] hard enough. So for me his experience, his toughness, what he went through, that was the layer I put on top of me.

It's a question of finding just the right balance because, for me, playing someone hard or thuggish is really interesting because there's really no one like that. Everyone has something. There's something sophisticated about every person. So I'm delighted that people actually connected with this guy who's a loner, who's really had difficult experiences but [within whom] there's something; there's a heart there.

Above: A meme that humorously contrasts the character of nerdy Thomas Builds-the-Fire
in the film Smoke Signals with Gooch in Dance Me Outside.

Later in the same interview with Palmater, Michael talked about his evolving film career.

Change is something that we can make happen. And you can look at history, you can look at an industry [like the film industry] and go, argh, they won't move, they won't budge. But we just keep pushing; like, just put your finger on the door and keep pushing because we're dealing with a lot of history . . . a lot of stereotypes. But every actor from our community out there is trying to make it happen.

. . . So even when I started [with Dance Me Outside] I was allowed to see how sophisticated our characterizations could be. . . . So I took that going forward so that when I started doing period films, the historical films [like Crazy Horse and Stolen Women, Captured Hearts (right)] I understood how they wrote us was just only one part of how they could understand us. And it was my job to make sure that there were other elements that I would bring as an indigenous person, as someone who understood our culture or was learning about it.I can make that role different. I can change it. And I've been doing it, I think, in all the roles that I've done.

Above: Michael with Janine Turner in the 1997 made-for-TV movie Stolen Women, Captured Hearts, a story loosely based on the real-life Anna Brewster Morgan who was held by the Cheyenne for approximately one year before being returned to her husband.

Left: Michael in the 1993 made-for-television movie Geronimo. He played Juh in this film while Joseph Runningfox (pictured with Michael above) played Geronimo.

The film also stars Kimberly Norris as Geronimo's second wife. In a December 5, 1993 Los Angeles Times article, Norris, a descendant of Chief Seattle, shared the following.

I'm sure that for all involved, this is more than just a job, it's a spiritual endeavor. It's an effort to reach back into our history, and to understand what happened, why it happened, to regain some of the humanity that history – at least history in the form that it's taught – has taken away from us. That's what we're trying to do here with this story. We want to show people that we fell in love; we were heartbroken; we loved and lost; we whined and complained every once in a while – and that there are eternal truths that exist in all societies. Indian people are just human beings. So we're here setting some falsehoods straight.

Above: Michael in the 2008 war film Passchendaele.

Above: Michael as the Comanche warrior Tarantula in the 1997 CBS miniseries True Women.

In her profile of Michael in the February/March 1996 issue of Cowboys and Indians magazine, Wolf Schneider writes the following.

[I]n True Women [Greyeyes] developed a speech pattern for his threatening yet proud Tarantula that gave new meaning to the term "broken English." He seems to have the chops for that expansion of self and heightened awareness that Stanislavski considered so key to believable acting. . . . [Indeed, Greyeyes] proved [so] popular in True Women . . . that crew members began mimicking the halting speech of his Comanche character, like how he told Dana Delaney, "You . . . will walk . . . again . . . but not good. You . . . will not . . . ride horse with wings . . . again." Today, Greyeyes chuckles, recalling, "Everyone was imitating the way Tarantula spoke. They'd say, 'You . . . come to my bed . . . hey, Michael.' The cameramen, the grips, everyone was imitating me. What do they say – it's the highest form of flattery?"

Above and right: Michael with Jennifer Jason Leigh in the 2001 coming-of-age film, Skipped Parts. Michael plays the character of Hank Elkrunner.

Writes Variety's Ken Eisner about Skipped Parts:

[The] story is set in 1963, when Sam Callahan (Bug Hall) and his singularly bad-behavin’ mom, Lydia (Jennifer Jason Leigh), are exiled from South Carolina to faraway Wyoming. This gives [director] Tamra Davis a chance to toss in the Kennedy assassination, bad haircuts and other period symbols, but the pic never reads as if it’s really the ’60s; languid body language and frank, casually profane dialogue all convey a ’90s feel.

Conflict, in a nutshell, has sexually naive but good-natured Sam falling in love with his new schoolmate, a pretty girl called Maurey (Mischa Barton). She doesn’t love him back, exactly, but his slatternly mom encourages them to experiment, with predictable results. Her subsequent visit to the local abortion clinic — presumably a challenge to find in 1963 Wyoming — is further complicated by a surprise encounter with her Betty Crocker-like mom (Peggy Lipton, in a dark Jackie Kennedy do). Meanwhile, Lydia has hooked up with Hank (Michael Greyeyes), seemingly the only Indian in town, thus putting at risk the trust fund her Southern-fried dad (R. Lee Ermey, doing a spot-on Broderick Crawford) cruelly dangles before her.

Above: Michael with Skipped Parts co-star Bug Hall.

Above and left: The most powerful scenes in Skipped Parts involve Michael and actress Peggy Lipton, who plays a woman experiencing a psychological breakdown.

Apart from these scenes (and a number of others featuring Michael), I agree with critic Ken Eisner's contention that Skipped Parts is a "clunker," one that "hits wrong notes from the start and only gets more sour as it goes along."

Above and below: Whether hanging out with his rodeo clown buddy, drinking coffee, or displaying his physique while wearing only a pair of boxers, Michael's character, Hank Elkrunner, very much provides the heart – including the moral heart – of a movie which critic David Nusair declares "comes off as one long attempt to shock."

In 1998 writer Wolf Scheider wrote the following about Michael's physical attributes.

At 6'2" and 200 pounds, his got a dancer's grace (he spent a decade on the ballet circuit) and an athlete's muscles. Full-lipped, with shoulder-length dark hair and wide-set, steady eyes, 30-year-old Greyeyes, who's full-blooded Cree, more than fits the romanticized ideal of a people that once thrived free and in harmony with nature.

. . . While Greyeyes is physically so consummate so as to be idealized, he is in his personal life hardly stereotypical. Although he rides a horse bare-back and deep-seated on-screen, real life finds him allergic to animals. He's never lived on a reservation, but mostly in Toronto, Mew York, and now Cleveland, and admits, "I'm really a city boy." To get out in nature he neither hikes nor tracks nor hunts, but bicycles with his Polish-American dancer wife, Nancy Leroszewski, who performs with the Cleveland Ballet.

Above and right: Michael in the title role of director John Irvins' 1996 made-for-television movie, Crazy Horse.

Filmed on location in South Dakota and Nebraska, Crazy Horse has been described as a "gripping story with a fine cast." It's also been praised for its attention to detail. In The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History, historian and author Joseph M. Marshall III is critical of movie portrayals of Crazy Horse. Yet he concedes that Irvins' film "came the closest" in credibly portraying the life and story of the "strange man of the Oglalas."

For more about this film at The Wild Reed, click here, here, and here.

Above: Michael as Shawnee leader Tecumseh in the 2009 PBS series We Shall Remain.

Above: About his role in the TV series Fear the Walking Dead, Greyeyes said that he was honored to be representing Indian Country through his role as the tribal leader Qelataqa Walker, a Native man leading tribal members, who face ranchers over land disputes and more. For his portrayal of Qelataga Walker, Michael was nominated in 2017 for a Saturn Award for Best Guest Performance in a Television Series.

For more of Michael Greyeyes at The Wild Reed, see:
Michael Greyeyes' Role of a Lifetime
Michael Greyeyes on Temperance as a Philosophy for Surviving
A Warrior's Heart
Visions of Crazy Horse

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Quote of the Day

President Trump tonight has told us why he believes we need the wall. It gives me no pleasure to tell you what most of you already know. President Trump lies all of the time – and in his remarks tonight, and in recent weeks regarding immigration and the wall, he continues to lie.

In terms of immigration in this country, what we need to do is not to waste billions of dollars on a wall, but to finally address the need for comprehensive immigration reform – including improved border security. It is inhumane that tiny children at the border have been torn away from their parents. It is disgraceful that 1.8 million young people, raised in the United States, and who know no other country but the United States, have lost their legal protection under the DACA program because of Trump’s actions. It is heartbreaking that almost 11 million undocumented people living in this country, the overwhelming majority of whom are hard-working and law-abiding, worry every day about being deported and separated from their loved ones.

Sadly, what President Trump is trying to do is to create fear and hatred in our country. Instead of trying to bring us together as a people, he is trying to divide us up. And, in the process, divert our attention away from the real crises facing the working families of this nation.

President Trump, you want to talk about crises. At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, tens of millions of workers in our country are earning starvation wages and are unable to adequately provide for their families.

You want a national emergency? Thirty million Americans have no health insurance and many more are under-insured. Thousands die each year because they don’t go to a doctor when they should and our life expectancy is actually in decline. While the pharmaceutical industry makes tens of billions a year in profit, 1 in 5 Americans can’t afford the medicine they need. Now, that’s a crisis we should be working on right now.

And here’s another crisis. Too many of our seniors are living in desperate poverty, and about half of older Americans have no retirement savings. Hundreds of thousands of kids cannot afford to go to college and over 40 million are trying to deal with outrageous levels of student debt. What are we going to do about those crises?

And maybe, here’s the biggest crisis of all. The scientific community has made it very clear in telling us that climate change is real and is causing devastating harm to our country and the entire planet. And they have told us that if we do not transform our energy system away from fossil fuel the nation and planet we will be leaving our kids and grandchildren may well be unhealthy and even uninhabitable.

Mr. President, we don’t need to create artificial crises. We have enough real ones. Let us end this shutdown and bring the American people together around an agenda that will improve life for all of our people.

– Senator Bernie Sanders
Quoted in Jake Johnson's article,
"Bernie Sanders Rebukes Trump for Stoking
'Fear and Hatred' With Lie-Soaked National Address
Common Dreams
January 8, 2019

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
Bernie Sanders Responds to Trump’s Border Wall Address, Debunking President’s Lies About ImmigrationDemocracy Now!, January 9, 2019).
Trump Went on National TV and Lied to Americans About Immigrants – Melanie Schmitz (Think Progress, January 8, 2019).
'Trump Is the National Crisis': Primetime Address Denounced as 'Bigoted, Childish Con Job' on American People – Jon Queally (Common Dreams, January 8, 2019).
Not One Network Should Have Aired Trump’s Immigration Speech – Peter Certo (Common Dreams, January 9, 2019).
Pelosi and Schumer Played by Trump's Rules in Their Rebuttal; Bernie Sanders Did Not – Shane Ryan (Paste, January 9, 2019).
What’s The Matter With the Democratic Party? Just Watch Pelosi and Schumer Respond to Trump’s Wall Speech – Briahna Gray (The Intercept, January 9, 2019).
Trump Calls Those Who Don’t Support His Wall ‘Criminals’ – Mary Papenfuss (The Huffington Post, January 5, 2019).
On the Border, Little Enthusiasm for a Wall: ‘We Have Other Problems That Need Fixing’ – Simon Romero, Manny Fernandez, Jose A. Del Real and Azam Ahmed (New York Times, January 8, 2019).
Trump's Border Wall Isn't About National Security. It's About Stoking Racial Resentment – Jason Sattler (USA Today, January 10, 2019).
There Is No Crisis at the Border – and DHS Stats Prove It – Stuart Anderson (Forbes, June 25, 2018).
Retiring Border Chief Calls Trump's Wall a Waste of Time and Money – Bran Ross, Brian Epstein and Paul Blake (ABC News, January 23, 2017).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Christmas in America, 2018
A Prayer for Asylum Seekers Being Tear-Gassed at the Border
Opposing the Trump Administration's Inhumane Treatment of Immigrant Families
Something to Think About – November 27, 2018
"What We're Seeing Here Is a Tipping Point"No Room for Them
Something to Think About – December 25, 2016
2000+ Take to the Streets of Minneapolis to Express Solidarity with Immigrants and Refugees
Something to Think About – December 25, 2012

Image: Photographer unknown.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Prayer of the Week


A Prayer for the Moment Between

By Greg Fullerton

I want to engage everything life brings me!
I want to be awake! Alert! Alive!

Will I allow everything to have its place,
to be part of the whole?
Can I let what is be part of what’s becoming?

There is a weaving for good
bigger than my anxious grasp,
welcoming my steady trust.

In that moment that seems like the edge of the cliff,
a vacuum that must be filled,
in that moment between my too much and too little –
meet me there.

Help me be there with you.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
To Dance . . .
Somewhere in Between
Move Us, Loving God
Andrew Harvey on Radical, Divine Passion in Action
And As We Dance . . .
Active Waiting: A Radical Attitude Toward Life
A Prayer for Dancers
Not Whether We Dance, But How
"I Came Alive with Hope"
Aristotle Papanikolaou on How Being Religious is Like Being a Dancer

Images: Dancer Calvin Royal III. (The NYC Dance Project.)

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Midnight Garden

Midnight garden of passion
blooming its lustful petals,
its sensuous fragrance
surrounding its blissful meadows

The cooling sensations
of midnight fever
chilling stems
and growing quivers

Midnight garden's gleaming moon
shine your pearly whites
and watch my garden glow;
the view is out of sight

Midnight garden
let me feel your misty leaves,
let me taste your milky cream,
shower me with sunflower seeds

Silent Midnight garden
yet noisy as it seems to you
it may just glisten
but to me it only screams

Don't you just love my garden,
it's magical as can be;
my flowers bend and dance
to the rhythm of my sea

Midnight garden, oh,
Midnight garden, please,
tonight we become one;
forever lasting in deep

– Elena Folasade Winters

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Dance of Light, Eyes of Fiery Passion
The Holy Pleasure of Intimacy
Never Say It Is Not God
It Happens All the Time in Heaven
Your Scent I Know
After Loving
One Fearless Kiss
Just Now and Then
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
No Altar More Sacred
The Longing for Love: God's Primal Beatitude
Prayer of the Week – June 2, 2014

Image: "Sex Mandala" by Alessio Slonimsky

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

A Blessing for the New Year

Note: The following is written by Pierre Pradervand and was first published in The Edge magazine. Pradervand's blessing is accompanied by the above illustration by Lisa Graa Jensen.

We bless this coming year for the innumerable opportunities for good that will manifest as we open up to their possibility.

We bless You, Divine Love, for the unknown blessings that are already on their way.

We bless You also for the needed challenges that are already lined up so as to help us grow spirit-wards.

May we open our hearts to all those in need we meet and also those at the other side of the world whom we can assist or support in different ways.

May we treasure the simple fact of being alive and of the possibility of “DAWL” (Doing All With Love), moment by moment, day in, day out: thinking only loving thoughts, speaking words of love, seeing all with the eyes of love, undertaking all in a spirit of love and finally feeling only love.

May we treasure the intimacy of Your Presence moment by moment, anywhere and everywhere, by day or by night.

And may we learn to see absolutely everything that manifests in our lives as You hidden in the thousand and one disguises of form.

And finally, may we learn to really love ourselves as the magnificent divine manifestation we are. Only then will we really learn to love our neighbor – human, plant or beast – as ourselves, for they are ourselves.

Pierre Pradervand
via The Edge
January 1, 2019

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Let Us Be “Energized by the Beauty That Is All Around Us”: Jane Goodall's New Year Message (2018)
A New Year (2017)
Move Us, Loving God
Andrew Harvey on Radical, Divine Passion in Action
For 2015, Three “Generous Promises”

Related Off-site Links:
From Me to We. My New Year’s Resolution – David Korten (Yes! Magazine via Common Dreams, January 1, 2019).
A Bold, Progressive Political Agenda for a Happier and Healthier New Year – Bernie Sanders (Common Dreams, January 1, 2019).
NPR’s Favorite Movies of 2018 – Linda Holms, Glen Weldon, and Bob Mondello (NPR, December 10, 2018).
23 Things to Let Go of to Be Happy in 2019 – Lauren Gray (MSN Lifestyle, December 18, 2018).

Image: Lisa Graa Jensen.