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Arts & Entertainment
Actress says being Native helped 'Into the West'

Tonantzin Carmelo, a self-described "urban Indian," has a lead role in the upcoming TNT series "Into the West."

Carmelo plays Thunder Heart Woman, a Lakota woman who marries a white man. She said her "understanding of what it is to be a Native American today helped me a lot to understand the native culture back then."

Carmelo is from the Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribe of California. The tribe is not federally recognized. "I'm a California mission Indian," she tells TNT in an interivew [Text] in which she suggested that Native actors should know their culture if they expect to be hired in Hollywood.

"I know that the good guy is normally the cowboy and the bad guy is normally the Indian - and the Indian is normally an Italian," Carmelo said in another interview with critic Valerie Kuklenski.

Indians finally have a seat at the table due to the series, says David Zurawik, the television critic for The Baltimore Sun. "By opening the miniseries with the Lakota, Spielberg signals his intention of foregrounding the Native American narrative. He knows that the nation has come too far along the path of diversity to resonate with the old Eurocentric saga," Zurawik writes.

But not everyone thinks the Native perspective is portrayed well in the series. "The Lakota characters are even sketchier than their white counterparts, there less as people than as symbols," says Newark Star-Ledger critic Alan Sepinwall. "The Lakota sequences seem shorter and more obligatory as the story moves along, as if the writers knew they were necessary to provide historical balance but had no idea how to make them interesting."

Elaine Wolff of The San Antonio Current isn't convinced either. "Even the actors who portray Lakota tribespeople don't seem to be entirely convinced of their own authenticity,"she writes. "Part of the fault lies with the filmmakers who decided that these scenes require more narration than the all-white scenes. The unintentional effect is to make the Native Americans seem childlike and deserving of patronization."

Among other Native actors, the series stars Irene Bedard, Russell Means, Eric Schweig, brothers Eddie and Michael Spears and Sheila Tousey. [IMDB Entry].

Part 1, "Wheel to the Stars," debuts on Friday. Check local listings for time and channel.

Get the Story:
TNT Series 'Into the West' Spans 65 Years (AP 6/9)
Miniseries worth the time (The Baltimore Sun 6/9)
A new frontier fable (The Redlands Daily Facts 6/9)
Bland characters make pioneer saga boring (The Newark Star Ledger 6/9)
We know drama (and this ain't it) (The San Antonio Current 6/9)

Relevant Links:
Into the West -

Related Stories:
Critic: 'Into the West' unlike anything you've seen (6/8)
'Into the West' mini-series debuts on Friday (6/6)
'Into the West' series to debut next week on TNT (5/31)