Oklahoma’s Wes Studi won an honorary Oscar last Sunday at the Governor’s Awards, becoming the first Native American to win an Academy Award. Studi, a full-blood Cherokee from Nofire Hollow, has appeared in more than 90 movie and television roles, creating memorable characters in legendary films since his breakout in 1991 Oscar winner Dances with Wolves. His most recent critically acclaimed role was in 2018’s Hostiles, co-starring Oscar winner Christian Bale, who presented the Oscar to Studi at the ceremony.
Two of Studi’s most successful collaborations have been with Oklahoma filmmakers: The Last of the Mohicans, produced by Oklahoma City’s Hunt Lowry; and, The New World, directed by Bartlesville’s Terrence Malick. Studi also appeared in one of the biggest selling films of all time, Avatar, directed by James Cameron, who is married to actor, author, and educator Suzy Amis from Oklahoma City.
Wes Studi attended the deadCenter film Festival in 2011 with his Oklahoma produced film Dome of Heaven. In 2013, Studi was inducted to the Hall of Great Western Performers at the Western Heritage Awards and then flew back in June to present Hunt Lowry with the Oklahoma Film Icon Award at deadCenter. In 2014, Studi returned to be honored as an Icon himself. While at the festival that year, he was cast as the lead in a short film by Oklahoma based artist and filmmaker Steven Judd. That film, Ronnie BoDean, brought Studi back to deadCenter in 2015.
Another award-winning trailblazer from Oklahoma will be featured on PBS this month. Lawton’s N. Scott Momaday, the first Native American to win the Pulitzer Prize, will be featured in the gorgeous feature length documentary about his life and work, Words From a Bear, directed by fellow Kiowa artist Jeffrey Palmer. The film airs November 18th as part of the PBS American Masters series.
In the documentary, fellow Oklahoman and newly appointed U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo explains how Native American writing was relegated to the folk section until N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. That book, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, rescued Harjo’s work and placed it correctly in the poetry section, which she now represents as laureate.
Words From a Bear debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival before screening at deadCenter this summer, where it was awarded Best Oklahoma Feature by the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. Momaday and Palmer were both on hand for a great discussion after the film. And, 284 people downloaded House Made of Dawn through a deadCenter partnership with the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library, making it the biggest online book club in the library’s history.
Kyle Kauwika Harris, a Choctaw filmmaker from Poteau, joins Jeffrey Palmer as one of the new generation of storytellers making their mark across the country. Harris has directed two award winning films: the 2017 feature documentary I Stand: The Guardians of the Water about the Sioux Nation Standing Rock pipeline protest, and the 2019 short film Los Americanos, which won the Oklahoma State Fair Film Festival in September.