In a Year of Whitewashed Oscars, at Least ‘The Revenant’ Was Diverse

A Navajo actor left his truck-driving job in Texas for a key role in the Best Picture-nominated film.

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This year’s Oscars have stirred up controversy for their lack of diversity in the nominees. 2016 marks the second straight year that every nominee for the performance awards was white, while films with black or minority themes were overlooked. The retrograde look of it all prompted black filmmakers and stars such as Spike Lee and Will Smith to boycott this year’s ceremony, and caused the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to announce sweeping changes to its membership practices. Yet arguably one of the only bright spots has been thus far overshadowed by Hollywood’s mistakes: The film with the most nominations, The Revenant, is one of the most diverse prestige movies of the year.

Besides Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, many of the other Native American characters portrayed in the story of frontiersman Hugh Glass surviving a bear attack and seeking revenge on the man who killed his son are played by actual members of the Cree Nation. Other portrayals of Native Americans, like Hikuc, the Pawnee man who briefly helps DiCaprio’s character in the movie, are played by Native Americans as well.

It’s absurd that movies in 2016 have to clear so low a bar to earn praise. But, welp, here we are.

DFW.com caught up with Texas actor Arthur RedCloud, the 43-year-old truck driver-turned-amateur-actor who played the Pawnee character Hikuc, and asked him about his experiences in the movie — and particularly the diversity on-set.

Here’s a shot of RedCloud in character from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s Instagram page:

“They had a speech person for the Pawnee. They had an ambassador for the tribe up there [in Canada] in the places we were going,” he said in the interview. “There were a lot of people representing the First Nations [people].”

RedCloud’s grandfather was a Navajo medicine man, and he originally thought he’d follow the same path. Per DFW.com, RedCloud, who previously appeared in smaller films and documentaries, saw a casting call on Facebook for Native American actors to appear in The Revenant. “I thought it would be great to look into it,” he said, before he decided to head to the auditions in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He eventually found himself in the cold and snow of Canada shooting the movie with DiCaprio.

Here’s a photo of Duane Howard, a First Nations actor who plays Elk Dog in The Revenant, from Lubezki’s Instagram page:

RedCloud told the website he didn’t think much of the buzz surrounding DiCaprio’s allegedly grueling performance, particularly eating real buffalo liver.

“All Native Americans have taken that kind of food … and used it in their ceremonies and traditional ways,” he said. “To me, it wasn’t just that the script was saying to do it or what the director wanted me to do. It was great to eat it. It was almost like taking bread and drinking wine in some churches.”

But he was quick to follow up that comment, saying the shoot itself was as difficult as reported. “It was [about] sticking through it and making it look real … The toughest part? Dealing with the cold,” he said.

So for all its faults, at least The Revenant tried to give the actual people represented on-screen those parts. And for all his faults as a filmmaker, it should also be noted that Alejandro González Iñárritu was the only non-white director whose movie was nominated for Best Picture.

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