Wes Studi will become the first Native American to get an Oscar, when he is presented with an honorary one. He is considered the second person to have presented an Academy Award, after Will Rogers. Who hosted in 1932 and was 9/32 Cherokee. So yeah. The Oscars have long had Issues with ethnic groups other than those of European descent, and arguably even there, you have to have the “right” European descent. Hollywood in general; in 2013, Studi became the second Native American inducted into the list of Great Western Performers by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. After Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto. If I’m reading the list correctly, they remain the only two. I just keep being grateful that Iron Eyes Cody doesn’t come up, frankly!
Studi grew up in Oklahoma in a Cherokee-speaking family. He is one of something like five thousand actual graduates out of the 18,000 students in Chilocco Indian Agricultural School’s history; he studied dry cleaning. At seventeen, he joined the Oklahoma National Guard and actually volunteered for active service, spending a year in Vietnam. Upon his return, he became involved in Native American activism and was actually at Wounded Knee. And then, apparently, a friend of his suggested that acting was a good way to meet women.
He’s a hard-working man. Beyond his many TV and movie appearances, he is also in a band with his wife, Maura Dhu Studi, and serves as the honorary chair of the Indigenous Language Institute in Santa Fe. In his youth, he actually started a Cherokee-language newspaper; he didn’t speak English until elementary school. He’s one of those faces you definitely know even if you don’t know his name. Mostly, you think of him as stoic, I’m sure, as that’s what he gets cast as a lot.
Personally, for me, he will always be Terribly Mysterious. Oh, sure, it may not be the best movie ever made, but say this about Mystery Men; it let Studi be funny. The sorts of roles he gets cast in don’t, always. If you want a funny “Native fellow,” you go for Graham Greene. If you want imposing, you go Studi. And that’s fine, as far as it goes, inasmuch as typecasting is not just a problem within ethnic groups. It’s just that it’s a larger problem within ethnic groups, were it feels as though everyone figures you only need one person of any given group to fit any given type.
Okay, so I’m getting to Studi because the Academy finally is. I’m not sure I believe he was ever robbed for a competitive award; even the Sphinx is not the sort of character that gets awards. (Especially the Sphinx.) In many of his good movies, he’s being overshadowed by someone more well-known. And, let’s be real, he’s also done some bad movies. And some that people would have to have heard of before they could tell you if they were good or bad. Still, Studi is one of those people who’s never the bad part of a movie, and that’s definitely worth celebrating.