Peruvian Actress Q’orianka Kilcher: There’s More than One Way to Portray Indigeneity on Screen

Chris Eyre, Joely Proudfit, Q'orianka Kilcher, Chief Phillip Whiteman Jr., Lynette Two Bulls attend the premiere of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures' "Hostiles" at Samuel Goldwyn Theater on December 14, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Native American actress Q’orianka Kilcher was only 14 years old when she made her breakout performance as Pocahontas in Terrence Malik’s 2005 historical drama The New World. Since then, Kilcher has starred in a number of films and TV shows, including Sons of Anarchy, Longmire and The Power of Few. Later this month, she can be seen in TNT’s new period drama The Alienist opposite Dakota Fanning and Daniel Brühl.

Along with her new role on TV, Kilcher, whose father is a descendent of the Quechua-Huachipaeri people of Peru, stars in the Western drama Hostiles. Directed by Scott Cooper (Black Mass), the film features Oscar winner Christian Bale as Joseph Blocker, an Army captain who is ordered to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family back to their tribal lands to ensure their safe return. In the film, Kilcher plays Elk Woman, the chief’s daughter-in-law, who is making the journey with her husband Black Hawk (Adam Beach), young son Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief) and sister-in-law Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty). Along the way, she encounters a grieving mother, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), with whom she shares some of the film’s most emotionally resonant scenes.

During an interview with Remezcla last month, Kilcher, 27, talked about how Hostiles speaks to the issues facing a divided country, how disappointing it is when studios cast non-Native actors in Native roles and why today’s society needs to stay positive, especially during this turbulent time across the political landscape.

Hostiles is in limited release and expands nationwide January 19.

On the Meaning She Found in the Script

One of the things that stood out to me was the title. We all have the capability of being hostile. [But] if you look at somebody that you deem as your enemy, and then put yourself in that person’s shoes under the same circumstances, would you react any differently? That was an interesting moral thought. When I read the script, it made me think, “How do we need to be to see the world that we want to see?”

“I’m thankful when I don’t have to wear dreamcatcher earrings or a little feather in my hair to tell people that I’m Native.”

On Finding Common Ground

My character specifically has this relationship with Rosamund Pike’s [character]. We start off as enemies and are brought together because we’re [both] trying to survive. Because of the environment we’re in, we’re thrown together and forced to see one another within that state of chaos. Banding together, we see the similarities we share. We see each other as mothers. We see things in each other that reflect one another. It comes down to just being a human being and recognizing another human being in front of you.

On How the Film Speaks to the Current State of the Nation

There are underlying notes throughout the film that are very relevant today. We need to start focusing on the things that bring us together rather than the things that divide us. We need to realize at the end of the day we’re all brothers and sisters and we’re all related. We all live on this beautiful, blue planet. [Hostiles] shows the beauty of nature, but also the destruction done by man. When bad things happen, too often people will turn their cheek the other way or try to find a way to justify it to make themselves feel better. But we need to realize that to have a clear understanding of your future and where you’re going, you must have a clear understanding of your past and where you come from. By looking at your history, you can learn from your mistakes.

Q’orianka Kilcher attends The Alienist – LA Premiere Event at Paramount Studios on January 11, 2018 in Hollywood, California. Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Turner
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On Playing Both Native and Non-Native American Roles in Her Career

I’m proud to be indigenous. I’m proud whenever I can represent an indigenous woman in a film. I feel as an artist, it’s my responsibility to continuously help pave the way and push the boundaries and break down those barriers within society and within Hollywood of how indigenous people are portrayed on film. I’m very appreciative of any of those roles I get. However, I am very thankful when I am cast in other roles, too, and I don’t have to wear dreamcatcher earrings or a little feather in my hair to tell people that I’m Native. When I’m cast in a non-Native role, those decisions move our community forward because we’re not being cast just for our race. You start to get cast because your work is good and speaks for itself. It becomes more inclusive. I am happy that Hollywood is becoming more open to inclusivity. We still have a long way to go, but we’re taking little steps in the right direction.

On Banding Together to Demand More Inclusivity in Hollywood

There are a lot of voices starting to rise. I think it’s starting to get so loud that [studios] can no longer not listen and not hear us. There’s becoming a demand for [diversity]. The power goes back to the people. We have all the power and control if we come together as a community. I believe one small action a day multiplied by millions is what truly changes the world. It’s our responsibility as a society to push those changes we want forward, otherwise we’ll stay where we are.

Christian Bale, Q’Orianka Kilcher and Scott Cooper attend the premiere of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures’ “Hostiles” at Samuel Goldwyn Theater on December 14, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
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On How She Feels When a Non-Native Actor is Cast in a Native Role

You know, it’s a fine line. I respect Rooney Mara [who played a Native character in Pan] and I think she’s a fantastic actress. But sometimes it is upsetting because there aren’t that many roles to begin with for Native American actors. If those are the only roles you get to go out for and they’re once in a blue moon, then a lot of Native actors get disillusioned and disappointed. You’re like, “There isn’t a lot to begin with and now you’re taking the few opportunities we have away from us.” It’s a complicated thing. At the end of the day as artists and filmmakers, it’s our responsibility to make the right choices and to think about how we want our industry to change and how the choices we make ourselves affect that change.

On President Trump Continuously Calling Senator Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas

I almost have no comment for that because I don’t want to give it power. It’s quite sad to see what’s been happening. But at same time, I’m very hopeful as a young person because I see a bunch of young warriors being raised in the time we are living in right now. I see young superheroes and young environmental activists. Things have gone so wrong in so many ways, people can no longer ignore it. I feel like even though some of the things that are going on are quite horrendous, in a way, it’s also waking up the world.

On What the Current Administration Needs to Realize About Indigenous People

Indigenous communities have a lot to offer because we’ve been living in harmony with Mother Earth for thousands of years. We think about our future generations and are not shortsighted and just think about the here and now. We think about tomorrow and what we’re going to be leaving behind for our children. Indigenous communities should not be seen as an obstacle to progress, but rather a necessity to progress. We are all in this together. All the issues facing the world today are not confined within borders. They affect all of us. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we acknowledge it now or later on when it’s too late. I think there are many things that need to be addressed, but right now it is a time for hopeful awakening for a lot of people who have been sleeping for far too long.