Tantoo Cardinal

Tantoo is working on an official page. Just bookmark this page, because I hope she'll let me know as soon as it's up and I'll put the link here!

Tantoo remarked on how old this article is, and so it's not too accurate anymore.

[The following is printed in part from INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY, 12/1995, Award Winner Gives Voice, Cardinal Paves Way for Others, by Jackie Bissley, ICT Correspondent]
*After 25 years in films, Tantoo Cardinal is easily the most recognized ...Native American actress today. One would think that the distinction of countless awards and a stellar list of film credits would help the actress to have her pick of roles. ...[at] 45... [she] says Hollywood is still in the dark ages when it comes to developing roles for women, especially Indian women. "Look at the film industry. How many roles are there for women in their 40s? How many roles for Indian women? Hollywood doesn’t even bother to put us on their list of ethnic women. It’s African-American, Latinos and Asian-Pacifics!»...[Tantoo] is Cree...[and] born in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. It was in the early ‘70s, a time when Native activism was reaching a height, that Ms. Cardinal began experimenting with acting..." I got into acting through my political involvement, through a sense of justice.
* I wanted to see things change, to offset some of the lies that have been told about us throughout history. The attitude of the public back in the ‘60s was so backward and ill-informed. By the time I found out about our history and how we were treated, I was in a rage. It was really a time of darkness and great frustration. There was an incredible wall we had to get through." ...[The] Canadian Content Rule, which came into existence in the mid 1960s, was the beginning to opening doors and minds. It resulted in producers actually casting real Native people to play Native roles.
* The ruling stated that for Canadian stories to be produced, whether in TV , film, radio or print, a certain percentage of Canadian content had to be present...[Tantoo became] well-known for her work with Native youth groups. It was this public speaking...which led to her first acting job, a role in a CBS documentary-drama. Next came a series of film projects through Alberta Native Communication Society...By the late 1970s...[Tantoo] devoted herself full-time to acting..."The function of art is to get people to talk, to discuss and in the sense of that, Dances With Wolves is incredibly successful. People are so resilient to change, and resistant to new ideas so it has to come through stories, through entertainment. I always felt that as an actor we have to have the courage to go into the territory of hard experiences and tell the truth of what’s happened to us as human beings. That’s where you find understanding...You don’t come through generations and generations of genocide and holocaust to be wimps--to be portrayed as monotoned and one-sided characters. That’s just not possible! There are some roles that I'm just tired of. There's nothing more for me to say in those roles. The historic little two-scene things where they don't really respect the woman. They don’t have any idea of what the role of women is in the Indian community. That work still has to be done."
*...The actress agrees that some of the exploitation comes from inexperience and a lack of understanding about how the entertainment business is run. There is also a tendency for individuals to be cast solely on the basis of having the right "Indian look." "It’s handy for producers because they get people with relatively small experience, and they know they’re not going to have to pay big bucks. The directors don’t expect an incredible performance. If they get a passable performance, they’re happy. That’s unfair to the individuals that are expecting a good learning opportunity. I’ve been fortunate because I’ve had directors who took the time to take the distance I needed to go. I remember telling directors, ‘Is that what you wanted or are you just being satisfied? Don’t say print because you figure that’s all you’re going to get.’ You have to push yourself. You have to push them."
* ...Ms. Cardinal stands her ground and explains her personal view on the issue. "Those people criticizing anything I’ve done, I don’t see them lined up at my door to pay my gas or feed my kids and to fulfill their dreams. They’re not lined up for that so it's none of their business really. Everybody has to make their own individual choices. Young actors that come up to me and say, ‘You did this and it wasn’t right’ -- I say OK, then you can see that and that's a choice you can not make. Don’t think just because you’re noble and you’re in there because you want the best for your people. That’s not always the case. Even people who want the best for their people make mistakes in their choices. Ideally as an artist you should have a responsibility to the image that you put forth."
*One image [Tantoo] is proud to take responsibility for is her performance in the film WHERE THE RIVER FLOWS (1993). The movie is set in Vermont in the late 1930s and [Tantoo] plays the role of Bangor, a feisty old Indian woman...The actress feels that Bangor was the closest she’s gotten to playing a character who was a "whole complete person." But once again the Academy Awards proved that when it comes to being counted, Indians aren’t included. "If that had been a white woman, she (Bangor) would have been celebrated in very unique places, but it‘s an Indian woman, and old Indian woman! Not enough sex, not enough violence. The film industry just closes their mind because the lead is an old Indian woman so obviously it’s not interesting. They have no idea about the wonderful characters we have in our communities. Bangor is just a flicker."
*...When asked how she manages to hold her family life and career together, she quickly responds she doesn't. The actress credits her husband, actor John Lawlor, who keeps the family on an even keel and affectionately refers to him as "warrior partner." ---Tantoo says she's no longer married to John.
*...on the question of setting the record straight. «It’s really nothing specific. I’d like to do a strong role in a strong piece -- a role that gives something back to the humanity. There are too many films that just tear us down, that show none of our redeeming qualities, our being and how we’ve survived for so long. Something that honors this, something that is new and creative and comes out of our own community. Us Native people have a passion for telling the truth about who we are!"

This article was provided by Stephanie Ann Gritts (material from her newsletter AHG).

I've found her listed as being represented by Gold/Marshak.

Take a look at the list of new and upcoming productions for new stuff to look for Tantoo in!


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