All the dirt, news, culture and commentary for Oklahoma's second century.


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Q’orianka Kilcher as the Chickasaw performer Te Ata.
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Growing up learning Oklahoma history in school, it’s ultimately depressing how much Native history and culture is passed over, oftentimes nothing more than a simple one or two sentence reference, just enough to know the name to pass the test but not enough to truly know how important their impact on the world was.

Chickasaw storyteller and performer Mary Thompson Fisher, better known as Te Ata, was one of those figures.

Her story is finally being told in the lovingly earnest biopic Te Ata, a film fully financed by the Chickasaw Nation in what is a passionate example of filmmaking that is “for us, by us,” finally telling Native stories through Native eyes, a revolutionary concept that, even for all of Te Ata’s flaws, already sets a high bar for future Indigenous films.

Starring the captivating Q’Orianka Kilcher as the title character, Te Ata very much does follow the a-to-z blueprint of most mainstream biopics; starting with her life as a precocious girl growing up in the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, eager to be educated and see the world at a time when most Natives, especially women, were to know their so-called place in the background of this new white man’s America.

As the newly imposed government starts to levy unfair and unjust laws like the Indian Offences Act to literally beat out the Native in Native Americans, Fisher, now going by the stage name Te Ata, mesmerizes audiences first in her college drama class, then on the road in a traveling sideshow with her highly dramatic storytelling style, most of which revolves around the very legends and tales of her people that the government is trying to outlaw.

Reaching stardom in New York and Hollywood, she maintains a surprisingly healthy relationship to her heritage and her Oklahoma home, receiving accolades everywhere she goes, eventually leading to an audience in the Roosevelt White House and, we’re told but not shown, around the world.

Unfolding in a mostly brisk manner with no real breathers, all of the main highlights of Te Ata’s life are hit upon, sometimes at the risk of feeling like a Cliff’s Notes retelling by trying to pack as much in there as possible, but what it lacks in punched scripting it makes up for in honest inspiration and really, that’s probably a more important entertainment commodity right now than clever writing.

Kilcher does an admirable job carrying the entire film on her shoulders; the storytelling choreography is absolutely gorgeous and adds a real painstakingly mythic perspective to the proceedings. She’s ably aided by a solid cast behind her including Gil Birmingham and Brigid Brannagh as her mostly-supportive parents and a wide-eyed Mackenzie Astin as her future beau Dr. Clyde Fisher.

While Te Ata at times can seem a bit flat, like a very expensive Hallmark Channel movie, the stellar performances certainly belie the low-budget, creating an entertaining film that, in years to come, will surely become a much-needed learning tool, telling the story of a true Oklahoma heroine that deserves to be remembered, even if the Oklahoma history textbooks don’t want her to be.

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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