“Powwow Highway,” the serio-comic story of a contemporary Cheyenne’s quest to find his ancestral roots, has drawn some critical raves. But David Seals, who wrote the novel on which it is based, is complaining that the Warner Bros. release is “another Hollywood whitewash.”
“It’s not a bad movie,” Seals said on the phone from South Dakota. “The cinematography is good and some of the acting is OK. But they took the magic out of it.”
Seals, who said he’s descended from the Huron tribe, sold film rights to his unpublished novel in 1985 for $10,000. (The film cost only $3 million to make.) He castigated director Jonathan Wacks for alleged insensitivities to American Indians, including shooting atop a sacred South Dakota butte.
Wacks admitted that he began filming there until “religious zealots” objected. “We packed up and left,” he said, finishing the scenes in Wyoming.
Wacks said that the script was approved by a Cheyenne tribal chief and elder before shooting began and that the cast is primarily American Indian; Seals’ wife and son both have roles. Wacks also pointed out that “Powwow” won awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Gary Farmer, as the road warrior) at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco last fall.
Why, then, is Seals so upset?
“I think David really wanted to be the consultant on the movie (Hanay Geigomah, a UCLA professor of Native American studies, was hired instead),” Wacks said. “We felt we wanted an authentic movie. And we wanted someone with some distance, not the novelist.
“We have no animosity toward David. I hope he cools out.”