HBO Searches Tribal Communities For Actress To Play Sacagawea

Oct 31, 2014
Originally published on October 31, 2014 5:13 pm

HBO is planning a new six-hour miniseries on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

And it's searching the Northwest for one of the most famous and beloved figures in the saga – the role of Sacagawea. She was the young Native American mother who helped the Corps of Discovery reach the Pacific.

This miniseries may do something previous productions haven't – cast a Native American actress in the role.

Casting calls have gone out in Spokane and on the Fort Hall and Nez Perce reservations in Idaho, as well as in tribal communities in Montana, Wyoming and Alberta, Canada. Filmmakers say they're looking for Native women from age 17 to their early 20s to audition for the role of Sacagawea.

Charlotte Coté teaches in the University of Washington's American Indian Studies program. She said this casting call would have been unheard of at one time.

“Because the main roles would be given to more prominent non-native actors,” she explained.

Take the example of the 1955 movie “The Far Horizons” in 1955. Donna Reed plays Sacagawea wearing in brown makeup. She also has a passionate and historically inaccurate romance with William Clark.

Coté said Native American characters have often been sexualized in movies.

“All I can say it I hope HBO is taking steps away from Hollywood and that they do try to stick to a more historical, accurate portrayal,” she said.

HBO is casting for other Native American roles besides Sacagawea. They ask for people who can speak native Northwest languages and young men with horseback riding skills.

Whoever is cast will be working with some big names. Casey Affleck has reportedly signed up to play Meriwether Lewis. And the whole thing is being produced by the likes of Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and Edward Norton.

The casting director, Rene Haynes, also did the casting for “Dances With Wolves,” the “Twilight” series, and HBO's 2007 film “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” The upcoming Lewis and Clark miniseries is based on the Stephen Ambrose's 1996 biography “Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West.”

Auditions for Native American actors will be held on Saturday, November 1 in Spokane and on Sunday, November 2 and Monday, November 3 in Lapwai, Idaho.

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