Prey: Amber Midthunder On The Importance Of Representing Native American Women In Film
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Featured Image Credit: 20th Century Fox/Hulu
Just over 35 years after the original Predator film birthed the enduring science fiction franchise, a new interpretation has arrived with an extremely important backstory. Watch the trailer below:
Starring Roswell, New Mexico actor Amber Midthunder as the courageous young warrior Naru, Prey has reinvented the premise of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film by transforming it into a thought-provoking tale set within The Northern Great Plains in 1719.
The captivating and expansive land is where the ferocious alien hunter scopes out the men, women and children of the Comanche Nation, a real-life Indigenous tribe.
The filmmakers, including producer Jhane Myers, were intent on establishing an accurate and authentic portrayal of the Comanches. Plus, having a female Native American woman as the hero in a sci-fi action film is exceptionally important for the 25-year-old lead actor.
“It’s the most important thing,” Amber tells Tyla about having a Native American female character on screen. “That’s my favourite thing about this movie; it's obviously a very exciting Predator movie but I’m very proud of that element.”
Amber – who is an enrolled member of the Assiniboine Sioux tribe in Fort Peck – says her parents recently went travelling and someone asked her dad if he listens to the ground ‘so he can track’.
“All that [people] know are these stereotypical tropes and that is to the credit - or discredit - to the representation in filmmaking. So that kind of stuff – whether it’s accurate or inaccurate - goes around the world.
“And then the impact of Indigenous people and specifically women having a character that hopefully they are proud to be represented by is a huge responsibility. I thought about it constantly.”
To ensure Prey was accurate, Jhane – who is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation and Blackfeet – drew inspiration from her research and real-life experience.
“For us we have oral history and our stories and our tradition and the medicine that we see have been passed down through generations for centuries,” she explains.
"With it being set in the 1700s there isn’t much reference material for that time because there were no photographs.”
To work around this, Jhane – who is also a traditional fine artist – had an artist render the looks after she pulled together a colour palette. She also worked with costume designer Stephanie Porter to create Naru’s look and the costumes for the camp.
“It was amazing for me and I was very hands on since I know how to make these items and do everything culturally but it wasn’t just me, with everything we did we had Native people, we had an internship program so we had Native people in every department and we also had Comanche throughout the whole production that were able to help with other things.”
The team’s dedication to ensure the film’s aesthetic was accurate had a profound impact on the cast, who also had a say in how their characters would look and to ensure they were not a monolith.
Amber – who also underwent months of combat training – started to embody the character of Naru as soon as she saw herself in costume. “Every morning I would do my makeup first and then my hair and then I would put on my whole outfit and then I would have this moment every morning – my trailer had like a big mirror right by the door – where I would see myself every morning and I wasn’t seeing me anymore I was seeing Naru.
“There was so much thought put into costumes as well, not just accuracy but individuality.”
Beyond accuracy, the film explores the theme of hunting in many different ways. Viewers will see the animals hunting their prey, the predator hunting animals before moving on to the Comanches and French settlers setting traps and ultimately capturing Naru and her brother, Taabe.
“The predator always hunts the alpha,” Jhane explains.
“When he first lands in this time period, he starts with the animals – levelling up and levelling up.
“Each thing has a code; the Predator has a code, the Comanches have core values and the French trappers are hunting to monetise the [animal] hides to Europe.
“You see there are many different types of predators, you see different shades of different predators.”
Amber called the alien hunter in Prey ‘the ultimate Predator’ story. “It's not like a villain looking for world domination or something crazy and it's not just an aimlessly violent destructive monster, it's actually quite intentional and laser focused and that’s what makes this have a level of intellect to that creature and that’s what sets the Predator apart."