CUL­TURE

Au­di­tion­ing to be an Out­lander ex­tra.

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - By Kelly Bout­salis

I’M SIT­TING ON A BLACK plas­tic chair in the au­di­to­rium at the Na­tive Cana­dian Cen­tre of Toronto, jig­gling my legs as the cast­ing di­rec­tor in front of me stud­ies my ap­pli­ca­tion and head­shot. I’m here, along with 30 other In­dige­nous men and women, to au­di­tion for the role of “back­ground ac­tor, In­dige­nous, age 25-plus” for the wildly pop­u­lar (and wildly sexy) se­ries Out­lander. Pro­duc­ers had put out a call for In­dige­nous ex­tras to ap­pear on the show’s fourth sea­son as time-trav­el­ling English com­bat nurse Claire and her hunky Scot­tish war­rior, Jamie, jour­ney to the New World—or, as I call it, “home.”

I’m jit­tery, but I’m ex­cited too, and not just be­cause if I’m picked, I’ll get to go to Scot­land, where the se­ries is filmed. I’ve never acted a day in my life. Nor have I ever been on a movie set—if you don’t count the times I’ve gawked at the lo­ca­tion shoot­ing of Suits in Toronto’s fi­nan­cial dis­trict. But I’ve al­ways been ob­sessed with movies and TV (IMDb is my favourite web­site), and I’m cu­ri­ous to see what film­ing is like.

And, most im­por­tantly, I haven’t seen a lot of peo­ple who look like me on tele­vi­sion or in the movies, so this cast­ing call feels pretty big.

I’ve been search­ing for rep­re­sen­ta­tions of In­dige­nous peo­ple in pop cul­ture since I was a kid grow­ing up in the ’80s on the Six Na­tions of the Grand River re­serve in south­west­ern On­tario. Among my lim­ited op­tions? Old West­erns with peo­ple in wigs dressed up as na­tive peo­ple (not cool), Dances With Wolves (I’d rather watch it from the POV of the Lakota peo­ple de­cid­ing to adopt Kevin Cost­ner than the other way around) and Dis­ney’s Poc­a­hon­tas. (Do not get me started on the song “Sav­ages.”) Or I could pick up a VHS copy at the lo­cal video store (I did say I was an ’80s kid) of any­thing star­ring Gra­ham Greene. And while, yes, there were some In­dige­nous-made movies, like Dance Me Out­side, Smoke Sig­nals and Once Were War­riors— which my friends and I would watch at sleep­overs be­tween scarf­ing down junk food and telling ghost sto­ries—they only came around ev­ery few years.

Since then, there has been some move­ment to­ward in­clu­siv­ity on Cana­dian TV with the cre­ation of APTN (Abo­rig­i­nal Peo­ples Tele­vi­sion Net­work) in 1992 and shows like North of 60 and, more re­cently, Mo­hawk Girls and Black­stone. Mo­hawk Girls is one of two shows that re­flect a ver­sion of life on the re­serve—peo­ple greet­ing one an­other in their na­tive lan­guages, our dry sense of hu­mour and how tough we can be. Black­stone is a mes­mer­iz­ing drama with all the el­e­ments of the dis­ap­point­ingly real is­sues In­dige­nous peo­ple face, such as miss­ing and mur­dered women and the high prison and youth-sui­cide rates. I’ve be­come a cheer­leader for these se­ries be­cause they’re not only highly binge­able but also show In­dige­nous peo­ple as mod­ern peo­ple in sce­nar­ios that we all face, from try­ing to fit in af­ter mov­ing to a new place to deal­ing with fam­ily pres­sure. Dis­play­ing these com­mon­al­i­ties goes a long way to­ward hu­man­iz­ing our peo­ple, who of­ten seem rel­e­gated to his­tory books.

I can’t help think­ing about this dur­ing my au­di­tion as I try to con­cen­trate on what feels like the weird­est job in­ter­view ever. I’m asked to hold up my ap­pli­ca­tion and say my name and which na­tion I’m from. The im­pas­sive cast­ing agent in front of me doesn’t blink at my Greek mar­ried name, but he does in­quire what I do for a liv­ing, if I’m cool with wear­ing a wig (I guess no one had chic bobs in the 18th cen­tury) and if I have any prob­lem with go­ing to Scot­land for a month. Then comes the hard part: the act­ing. I’m asked to turn to the cam­era and give a stern face, which, as any­one who knows me knows, is next to im­pos­si­ble, un­less I’m deal­ing with my four-yearold daugh­ter hav­ing a full-blown tantrum. A few takes later, I’m done. As I leave the au­di­to­rium, I mouth “Good luck” to a woman I was sit­ting be­side ear­lier.

As I look back now, it felt good to be in a room of In­dige­nous women and men— even if we were vy­ing for the same roles—but the ex­pe­ri­ence also made me think about the im­pli­ca­tions of us al­ways be­ing in the back­ground. Al­though this Out­lander cast­ing call felt like a great step to­ward rep­re­sen­ta­tion, it also shows how far we still have to go. We have In­dige­nous voices on In­dige­nous TV, but what about main­stream pop cul­ture? I want to see more In­dige­nous peo­ple play­ing non-specif­i­cally-In­dige­nous parts—be­cause, yes, while we do have unique cul­tures and world views, we are not de­fined solely by our her­itage. It’s im­por­tant for nonIndige­nous peo­ple to see us fill­ing roles like Gra­ham Greene’s cop char­ac­ter in Die Hard With a Vengeance. We can be smart city de­tec­tives too! In­dige­nous voices also need to be be­hind the scenes, writ­ing, pro­duc­ing and di­rect­ing con­tent.

The nee­dle is mov­ing, al­beit slowly. Ac­tress Tan­too Car­di­nal and film­maker Da­nis Goulet were re­cently in­vited to be mem­bers of the Os­cars Acad­emy, and many of Canada’s me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions are fo­cus­ing on bet­ter­ing In­dige­nous rep­re­sen­ta­tion, with gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment in In­dige­nous pro­duc­tions and hir­ing and the cre­ation of a ded­i­cated In­dige­nous Screen Of­fice. In the end, I didn’t get a call­back to be one of 10 women to head to the hills of Scot­land and ap­pear for fleet­ing sec­onds be­hind Jamie and Claire. My movie ca­reer might not have kicked off, but I am en­cour­aged by the his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate hir­ing tac­tics of such a big­bud­get se­ries. Hope­fully, in the near fu­ture, there will be a time-trav­el­ling ro­mance where the main cast looks like me. You know I’ll be watch­ing. ®

Hope­fully, there will be a time­trav­el­ling ro­mance where the main cast looks like me.

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