I have been acting for 25 years, and the roles I have played have been: The Cigarette Smuggler, the Native Activist, the Native Guide, the Crack Addict, the Hit Man, the Black Jack Dealer. I have hardly ever played the Cop, the Investigator, the Doctor, the Lawyer or any character who appears to be "successful". I have been in Toronto for for 4 years now and have had very few auditions. Fortunately, in Canada, we have the Aboriginal Peoples Television network (APTN), which I have had many opportunities to work in my selected profession. I sometimes wonder how much work I would have acquired if APTN didn't exist. I have been very fortunate to work as an actor on shows like Cashing In, Mohawk Girls & Blackstone.
Recently, there was a feature film in which I was the director's "first choice", but one of the producers said I "Didn't look Native enough". They then turned around and offered the role to a name actor from the U.S., who is Latino, who turned the role down two weeks later and I thought, "Yes! I'm in!"... No, the investors wanted a U.S. "Name Actor"... They offered it to a Croatian actor from the states, who accepted their offer. I guess he was not only a Name, but apparently looked Native enough to play the role. What a disappointment that was.
You would think in this day and age, where First Nation people are working professionals in various fields, working as Doctor's & Nurses, Lawyers, Police Officers & Investigators, Dentists, TV journalists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists and a numerous amount of Corporate positions, that First Nations Actors would be portraying these types of roles in Modern Canadian Cinema would be considered. But, for us First Nations Actors, working hard to perfect our craft, that doesn't seem to be the case.
It baffles me, frustrates me and just plain old ticks me off! We are always cast as the street person, the cigarette smuggler, the drug dealer or the drug addict, the drunk, the protester, the "one liner" character who is wearing a hard hat on a construction site and when the casting breakdowns say "Ethnicity Open", the chances of a First Nations Actor getting cast in the role are very low. They usually go with an actor who is Black, Asian, or any other ethnicity BUT First Nations!
Why can't we just be a character with no focus on our ethnic background. Or why can't we play the Doctor or Lawyer or Investigator, who happens to be First Nations?
Another thing that bugs the hell out of me (Someone from back home mentioned this in a comment) is Johnny Depp playing Tonto! It's bad enough that we are stereotyped in modern cinema and only cast in, what my good friend and colleague filmmaker Jeff Barnaby calls, "Drum & Feather Indian" roles, but it seems that we are not good enough to even play Native characters in major Hollywood pictures! They could have cast any one of us in the role of Tonto... Eric Schweig, Adam Beach, Michael or Eddie Spears, Michael Greyeyes, Nathaniel Arcand, Wesley French, Gerald Auger, just to name a few of my friends. All of us have been working in the industry for over 20 years! I think each one of us has enough experience to pull it off.
Anyway, there's my rant for today! I hope that we can break down these barriers one day.
Glen Gould - Actor who happens to be First Nations.