Film Review: Te Ata
This handsome, well-mounted biopic of Frances Thompson Fisher, a Chickasaw actress from Oklahoma who persisted against all odds to become a major international performer in the early 20th century, helping spread Native American culture around the world, is a mixed bag. Fisher (or “Te Ata,” as she became known) has a fascinating biography, and the film is to be commended for bringing her story to audiences.
It was good to see Q’orianka Kilcher, the star of Terrence Malick’s masterful The New World, back onscreen with a meaty part (not to mention other great Native American performers like Graham Greene and Gil Birmingham). However, the often facile script and the proclamatory nature of many of the performances don’t always do justice to the wild, unlikely nature of Te Ata’s story; often, the movie feels like it was written for kids. Still, it has its share of lovely moments—the scene in which our heroine goes to enjoy a cartoon and is heartbroken at the Indian stereotypes on display is quite moving—and does provide a fascinating perspective on American history and showbiz culture that we rarely get to see.