How Charlie Chaplin’s Granddaughter Oona Chaplin Is Reconnecting With Her Mapuche Roots

'Tierre Firme' image courtesy of LA Panda

“Even if it only forms part of my DNA, I feel more Latin American than anything else,” actress Oona Chaplin told Remezcla during her time at Outfest. She’s was in Los Angeles presenting her most recent work Tierra firme (Anchor and Hope). Directed by Carlos Marques-Marcet, she plays opposite Natalia Tena, the British-born performer of Spanish descent, whom she met previously when they both were the only Spanish speakers on set of Game of Thrones.

Born in Spain, Oona comes from a long line of artists working in cinema. Her grandfather was the legendary Charlie Chaplin, and her mother, Geraldine Chaplin, is a prominent actress in her own right (she has a role alongside her daughter in Anchor and Hope). Her paternal side connects her with Latin America: her father, Patricio Castilla, is a Chilean cinematographer with indigenous Mapuche heritage.

In recent years, Oona has sought to connect with that part of her ancestry, particularly inspired by her paternal grandmother, Hilda Valderrama, a Mapuche pioneer from a village near Chillán who became a lawyer when women were fighting for basic equal rights. Although Valderrama passed away over a decade ago, the wisdom she imparted on Oona is something she treasures.

“My grandmother was of Mapuche heritage, but didn’t practice the Mapuche culture because, like many indigenous people at the time, she and her family had to make the decision to hide and distance themselves from their traditions to survive the cultural genocide that was very real,” said Oona.

‘Tierre Firme’ image courtesy of LA Panda
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In addition to being a key figure in the struggle for women’s suffrage in Chile, later in her life Hilda Valderrama was also the co-founder of the Human Rights Commission during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Valderrama was a fierce and outspoken fighter against his tyrannical rule. “She was a woman of integrity and complexity, I’m so proud of having that lineage,” added the actress.

Eager to discover more about the Mapuches, Oona traveled throughout southern Chile, specifically the Bío Bío Region, which was the border between the land controlled by the Spanish crown and what was considered sovereign Mapuche territory. “For me it has been a beautiful journey to reconnect with my Mapuche side. I’ve been investigating about the culture, especially the music, which is a world treasure. We should all listen to the Mapuche voices and songs.”

Despite being a Chaplin, Oona didn’t grow up wanting to be an actress. It was only as a teen that she had her own revelation about what the acting craft could do. “At first I firmly fought against it, because it seemed to me that it was a frivolous profession with little substance. But it was stronger than me, and when I was 15-years-old I acted in a play in school and I learned what it meant the magic and power of telling stories.”

Today, she enjoys an astoundingly successful career that balances independent projects like Anchor and Hope, where she portrays a lesbian hoping to get pregnant and share that joy with her partner, and large-scale productions such as the HBO hit show and James Cameron’s upcoming Avatar sequels.

Anchor and Hope will be released later this year in theaters and streaming platforms through Wolfe Video.