A Hollywood watchdog group for American Indians has questioned Robert Redford's decision not to cast an Indian actor in the leading role of a Navajo policeman in Redford's new film.
Lou Diamond Phillips has been selected to play Jim Chee in a film based on New Mexico author Tony Hillerman's novel, "The Dark Wind." Redford plans to begin filming on the Navajo and Hopi reservations Sept. 10.
"That's true Hollywood," said Ray Baldwin Louis, a high school drama teacher in Crystal, N.M.. "They've been coming out here for years promising to cast Navajos in leading roles. But they always end up with an Italian or a foreign-born."
Bonnie Paradise, director of the watchdog group the American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts in Hollywood said she will meet with Redford and Phillips within the next three weeks.
"Mr. Redford has bought the (rights to several) books from Mr. Hillerman and knowing there are other films down the line that follow the same story line, we are concerned," she said. Chee appears in many of Hillerman's mysteries.
Paradise said Phillips claims that he is part Indian but has not given the registry any documentation as requested.
A publicity packet for "Young Guns II," in which Phillips played a Mexican Indian, said he is part Cherokee, Filipino, Scottish-Irish, Hawaiian and Hispanic. Phillips also played an American Indian in the 1989 movie "Renegades."
Earlier this month, Actors' Equity voted to bar white actor Jonathan Pryce from playing the part of a Eurasian pimp in the U.S. production of "Miss Saigon," now on the London stage. But after the producer canceled the production, which has the largest advance ticket sales in Broadway history, the union's executive council reversed itself.
Sammye Meadows, the Native American liaison for Dark Wind Productions, said Phillips was offered the contract two weeks ago. His agent said contract negotiations remained incomplete Thursday.
"We would have really liked to have a Navajo actor play Jim Chee," Meadows said. "We spent enormous amounts of money traveling to powwows. . . . We didn't find the actor."