Studs Star Wes Studi at Oscars 2018
Did you catch Hollywood actor and producer, Wes Studi on stage at the Oscars this year?!
I don’t usually watch the Oscars since it starts at 4am in the UK. But the following day I was so happy to wake up to messages and Instagram images of Wes Studi on the stage and the red carpet. For those readers who don’t know, Wes starred in my film Studs in 2008.
From the Oscars podium, Wes spoke about his own service in Vietnam and introduced a tribute to military veterans—a montage of famous Hollywood military films. Wes closed the ceremony by speaking in his native Cherokee language: “Hello! Appreciation to all veterans and Cherokees who’ve served. Thank you!” On Instagram, the hashtag #wesstudi is full of Wes Studi fans and overjoyed Cherokee speakers. It’s a pretty big deal and very cool!
Wes was so brilliant in his breakthrough role as Toughest Pawnee in Dances with Wolves (1990) that he was cast as a similar “tough Native” type as Magua in Last of the Mohicans (1992). His repertoire includes other mega-blockbuster films from Heat (1995) to Avatar (2009), but my personal favorites are the three PBS Skinwalkers adaptations of Tony Hillerman murder-mysteries where Wes plays Navajo cop, Joe Leaphorn. When I worked with Wes in my 9-minute film Studs, I cast him as a wealthy oil-tycoon type based on Blake Carrington from Dynasty. My choice to cast Wes in a role of an American billionaire had a lot to do with wanting to disrupt Hollywood typecasting of Native actors.
Since the Oscars are commonly known as the most prestigious cinematic awards, let’s take a look at who decides. The awards are voted by a committee of over 6,000 anonymous members who are 94% Caucasian, 77% male, and 54% over the age of 60. While Wes Studi is the first committee-invited Native American presenter, another famous occasion springs to mind. In 1973 Marlon Brando won Best Actor for The Godfather, but he did not accept the Oscar. Instead, Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather, then President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, in his place to explain that Brando rejected the Oscar because of discrimination and mistreatment of Native Americans in Hollywood. Moments like this illustrate the power of Hollywood to shed light on issues of social injustice. This incident happened well before Wes, member of the Cherokee Nation, even became an actor. Maybe Littlefeather's speech, though booed at the time, helped to open a door for Wes Studi years later.
Here's a short clip of my film Studs (2008) featuring Wes Studi. My 9-minute film was inspired by Jackie Collins’ novel The Stud (1969) and the film adaptation starring Joan Collins as Fontaine Khaled (in 1978). My film unconventionally glimpses into Jackie Collins’ world of lust, betrayal, male sexuality, and female empowerment. The script is a series of passages hijacked directly from Jackie’s novel. Wes Studi's script is from the perspective of Tony, a hot nightclub owner. He's rich-bitch Fontaine’s muse and playboy, and well, he's the stud.
Studs was filmed on a gorgeous ranch estate in Santa Fe; a location generously given to us for free. I had no budget, and I had never worked with anyone of Wes Studi’s caliber, so needless to say I was nervous. There was no room in the budget for a teleprompter, so I went to a copy shop and printed Wes' script on poster sheets. Kindly, Wes’ wife Maura Dhu Studi, and our mutual friend Linda Storm, turned the pages.
Seeing Wes on stage at the Oscars brought back so many great memories.
Wado udohiyu utsati, Wes!
P.S. More Studs to come soon!! Studs co-star Bill May, champion synchronized swimmer, is set to compete in the 2020 Olympics! Finally, at age 42, Bill May gets his wish.