Sometimes I try to let Netflix pick my movie, and I blindly scroll down and randomly click on a film. I have never chosen a movie this way – except for today – I clicked on the 2017 movie Te Ata.
Why did Te Ata interest me?
1) I never heard of this movie nor the Chickasaw woman Te Ata whose life the film depicts.
2) The actress Q’orianka Kilcher who plays Te Ata, is also the Tribal Business Consultant Angela Blue Thunder in TV’s Yellowstone, Season 3. She began her career as Pocahontas in the 2005 movie The New World.
3) In the film, Te Ata’s father is Gil Birmingham, Chief Thomas Rainwater of the Broken Rock Indian Reservation also in TV’s Yellowstone.
So based upon the cast and knowing nothing about Te Ata, I chose Te Ata, a biographical melodrama set in the early 20th century (1906-1922). (I promise this is my last Yellowstone reference, I also mentioned Yellowstone in the previous movie review and just finished watching Yellowstone Season 4).
Te Ata, born Mary Frances Thompson, appears to be a significant figure in the early 1900s introducing the American people to the traditional stories of the Chickasaw people.
Te Ata’s story has several firsts, first to college, then to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, and ended up for a brief stint on Broadway in 1922 co-starring in a play, The Red Poppy. She gave up Broadway for a Chickasaw storytelling career. Te Ata was embraced by Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1920s and eventually performed in the White House during President Roosevelt’s first term. She lived to be 99 years old and performed her same schtick, usually for school-aged children, her entire life. Te Ata’s is presented in a heartfelt PG-13 biographic melodrama.
Te Ata’s life is interesting enough to make a movie, but her performances of the Chickasaw lore are old school and not as inspiring as they probably were in the 1920s. We have seen these stories before, but they were all new and powerful to the people in the 1920s.
Q’orianka Kilcher is perfect for the role. Her father is an indigenous Peruvian, so Q’orianka looks the part and can legitimately state she is indigenous. It may be difficult for Q’orianka to escape the typecast as an indigenous woman. Her depiction of Te Ata was more like a Hallmark movie, a bit overacted, straightforward, but sincere. Q’orianka Kilcher will next be in Dog, A Channing Tatum film, scheduled for a February 2022 release.
Gil Birmingham is her father in Te Ata. In Te Ata, Gil Birmingham is best when he plays the stern father spouting Indian lore. When Gil tries to show some emotion, his performance seems a bit stretched thin and insincere. TV’s Yellowstone knows how to use Gil Birmingham correctly; they keep him in the stoic authoritative stance the entire time, he never shows any other emotion. The cast also contains Graham Greene.
Overall, Te Ata, a biographic melodrama, is an informative film that keeps your interest. The movie attempts to show the injustices and prejudices against the Chickasaw people, but it is very sanitized and does not strike a chord. The film is heartfelt and empowering and would be appropriate in a Middle School presenting a strong woman to young girls.
The real Te Ata.