In this week's Seattle Weekly, Rick Anderson has a brilliant piece about Misty Upham, a Blackfeet actress who died at the age of 32. She was found at the bottom of a steep ravine on the banks of the White River near Auburn. I won't try to sum up the tragic circumstances in a sentence. It all must be read in context, which Rick provides in droves. But a line toward the beginning jumped out at me, as it seemed to underline a point made in my previous post: That through a well meaning attempt to acknowledge and validate Native American grievances, white artists reduce an entire people as demential representations of oppression at the expense of a far more complicated, rich and affirming truth.
Five-foot-six, with a wide oval face, Misty could be a strikingly pretty damsel or a gritty single mom, adapting physically to her role. (For her part as Lila in Frozen River, she purposely gained 40 pounds and cut off her waist-length hair above the shoulders). The work brought in good money at times, but she struggled financially and sometimes lived in her car in Hollywood. She hoped for a breakout role, but was typecast as a Native American surrounded by trouble, pain, and failure. “I would love to do a film like Sense and Sensibility,” she told an interviewer, “but until society changes, the only roles I’d get to play in movies like that would be either as a maid or a prisoner, which totally sucks.”