News Trending Viral Worldwide

Amber Midthunder On Her ‘Reservation Dogs’ Cameo And The Future Of Indigenous Representation On Screen

In Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey, Amber Midthunder became the first Indigenous actress to lead an action franchise. As a Comanche warrior out to prove herself, Midthunder’s Naru cleverly engineered a victory over sci-fi’s most lethal trophy hunter – a feat more experienced killers, hardened criminals, and special ops meatheads often couldn’t achieve.

So it’s funny to hear the actress, who guest stars in the latest episode of FX’s Reservation Dogs, talk about her fear of doing comedy. Taking down a Predator? Easy. But improv? Now that’s terrifying stuff.

“I was legitimately scared,” Midthunder tells UPROXX about switching genres for her role as an Indigenous influencer named Miss Matriarch. “I’ve had people say, ‘You should do comedy’ before, but it was just not what I felt called to, at all.”

Instead, Midthunder’s cut her teeth on sci-fi shows like Legion and the CW’s Roswell reboot, while delivering small but impactful performances in films like Hell or High Water and The Ice Road. A member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, she’s always been cognizant of her heritage when accepting roles and imbibed her characters with as much of her culture as she could, but now she’s finding the freedom to craft entire identities around her community’s past and present way of life. Her Miss Matriarch role, for instance, is a side-splitting amalgamation of influencer culture and self-help ethos and the cringe-inducing methods people often use to “get through” to the younger generations.

In other words, she’s a well-intended, wanna-be guru for Rez kids and Midthunder plays her with just enough earnestness to make you sympathize with her plight – while laughing your ass off at her ridiculous antics.

We chatted with the actress about trying comedy for the first time, becoming an action hero that’s actually relatable, and if Hollywood is finally making strides when it comes to Indigenous representation on-screen.

Reservation Dogs is your first comedy experiment. How did it go?

It was so cool. Obviously, the writing on the show is so good. I feel like you’ve heard about shows where there’s a loose idea and then you go in and you just figure it out. But no, everything [here] is just so top tier. There are so many moments where they’re like, ‘Talk about this thing,’ or you think the scene is over and then they’ll be like, ‘And then say this and then keep riffing,’ and so you can just go on and on and on. Tazbah [Rose Chavez] was like, ‘Listen, throw in as much Lakota as you want to.’ Those kinds of things were so much fun. Watching the episode, it’s just cool having been in that environment and experiencing that and knowing that that’s how shows like this are made.

Miss Matriarch is one of those influencers that just tries a little too hard. Why is she like this?

She did not grow up on her Rez and she’s obviously really overcompensating, really trying to hide it. Then on top of that, she genuinely believes in what she’s doing. So, it’s kind of endearing and it’s also what makes it more ridiculous. She truly is like, ‘These journals will save your life.’

The vibes are good.

Right? I’ve been comparing her to the mom from Mean Girls, I realize. She’s a little bit like, ‘I’m a cool mom,’ relating to the youth element. She’s trying so hard to get through to the kids. It is just the least effective way. I feel like people have all kinds of different ways of trying to find themselves or reclaim their culture and whatever. There are all kinds of different intentions behind that. But I think Miss Matriarch is a well-intended person. Her actions and what she says don’t always come off really well. She’s kind of that level of ignorance is bliss, well-intended, offensive, but she really wants to do her best.

Having worked on Prey and now Reservation Dogs, what’s unique about how each project approaches representation?

The biggest difference is the period, going back in time and representing a time period that with Prey, that time period is so often misrepresented. Just time and time again, throughout the history of film, any time you see Native people that are not in modern day, it’s just some different version of something that is wildly offensive. It’s either just a hyper-spiritualization or it’s just this wildly savage, one-dimensional trope. So, to have a movie like that where the focus was so much about accuracy and authenticity inside of a crazy action adventure, that opportunity, to me, was part of what made it so interesting.

Then you look at Reservation Dogs, and this is a relatable and honest, beautiful, heartbreaking picture of Rez life, just urban, modern-day, Rez culture — the jokes, the phrases, the way people talk, the family structure, the dynamics, even things that happened in this episode. That’s all stuff that people can relate to presently, and Prey is something that we all get affected by the representation of our history being accurately or, more often, inaccurately portrayed.

As ridiculous as this episode of the show is, it does lead to the group asking some important questions about decolonization and what it really means.

Those are the real things that we deal with. Those are the real questions that we have growing up or that youth has now. In Canada, I feel like they talk a lot about reconciliation and it’s like, ‘What actually is that? How does that actually get done?’ In the States, it’s like changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Is that going to do the job? No. It’s great for recognition. But I think oftentimes there’s so much lip service or there’s so much just band-aid appeasing that doesn’t really do anything substantial. That’s obviously very different from the characters in the episode, but I think in general, you have these conversations and it’s true. You’re like, ‘Well, what is the real answer?’ And it comes from the day-to-day life of the people in the community.

So, in a way, Miss Matriarch’s approach worked.

[laughs] Even accidentally, there’s progress made. I feel like, it does what it intends to while also being a comedy of errors, which I think is what the show balances so well — those beats that really can touch you, but then also just remain hilarious.

Prey gave us such an authentic portrait of 1700s-era Comanche life. Did you learn anything surprising while working on the film?

I’m not like, ‘Oh, I knew everything.’ There’s a lot of stuff that I learned. I think there’s nothing that was outwardly surprising. I did not grow up on my reservation, but I did grow up within my culture. But it was cool for me because I come from Plains people as well. So I’m Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota, and then there’s Comanche or Southern Plains. So, I’m Northern Plains, they’re Southern Plains. So getting acquainted with Comanche culture and seeing what was shared about our cultures and what was different was interesting. You’re raised with these stories, and so few people know them actually, that seeing them in front of me, that was what was so cool. Getting dressed in the morning and seeing everybody out there in the Comanche camp with the tipis and the buckskin, brushing teeth, playing games, brushing hair, brain tanning hides. That stuff was what was so cool, and it felt very transcendent to see that.

Then to know that we were going to share that with people. It’s weird to come from a people where you feel like your history is hidden or you come from a secret truth. I’ve grown up always knowing that we were very resourceful people and that we were very inventive and innovative and intelligent and well-kept. But that’s not how we’re represented. It felt like we were sitting on a secret that shouldn’t be a secret.

Naru is not some supernaturally-gifted fighter, she’s just a warrior who believes in her abilities and wants others to do the same. Is that something you can relate to as an Indigenous actress?

Yeah, I think regardless of being an Indigenous actress, just the experience of being a person who feels called to something, and sometimes people believe in you and sometimes people don’t. I’ve had times when I really believe in myself and I’ve had times where I have so much doubt that I’m like, ‘Maybe I’m doing the wrong thing.’ I think that that’s true of any passion and any calling. Then obviously, you add in all the elements of race and equity and opportunity and stuff like that. But even just on that base level of ‘Do you believe in yourself and who around you believes in you?’ I think that’s timeless and relatable.

You’ve been open about rejecting projects in the past because they didn’t represent Indigenous culture authentically enough. What’s the Midthunder test when it comes to Native American representation?

The filmmakers are always really important. I think if you’re making an Indigenous story, you need Indigenous people to be involved. That is just a 100% requirement. Reservation Dogs — all of the creatives are Native. So that just brings a different level of ease and value to the show and to the content. Even in a movie like Prey, obviously, Dan Trachtenberg is not Comanche. But he cares, and he is so open, so wanting to learn, so flexible and correctable, and wanting to incorporate things. Obviously, Jhane Myers, our producer, is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation. Native people behind the scenes are essential. Then you look at story elements and ask, ‘Well, how is this representing us? And what is the story here?’ All those elements are important.

What’s the vision for equal representation look like for you?

There are so many talented Indigenous people out there. I think some people are making Indigenous-specific stories and some are just making cool stories. I think that’s what’s next. It’s so important to have quality Indigenous-specific content. But also I think we are free to do whatever we may please. I think that we are free to do whatever we want, and it’s not, like, ‘Oh, they’re good storytellers for Indigenous people. They’re good filmmakers for Indigenous people. She’s a good actress for an Indigenous actress.’ No. They’re good filmmakers, just period. Good actress, period. I don’t think that we are limited to anything. Storytelling is our medium. We’ve been doing it since the very beginning. Everybody else is living in our space, I think.

So, I don’t think that we are limited to having to make any specific content or not. I think that it’s just we can have Native people playing Native people or we can have Native people playing superheroes or doctors or whatever. Maybe we don’t ever talk about it. That’s when things are equal, when it’s like, you’re not filling a quota. You just are there because you’re good and you deserve to be. You don’t have to make a point about pointing out somebody’s race. You just point out their qualities.

‘Reservation Dogs’ airs Wednesdays on FX on Hulu.