Wes Studi Makes History as First Native American to Win Oscar

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Oct 28, 2019

Actor Wes Studi, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, made history on Sunday (October 27) at the 11th annual Governors Awards when he became the first ever Native American to receive an Academy Award. “I am proud to be here tonight as the first Indigenous Native American to receive an Academy Award,” Deadline reports that Studi said at the event. “It’s about time!”

At age 71, the Nofire Hollow, Oklahoma-native trained at the American Indian Theater Company and has appeared in more than 30 films, including “Dances with Wolves” (1990), “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992), “Geronimo: An American Legend” (1993), “Heat” (1995) and “Avatar” (2009).

“I thank Michael Mann for having an open mind in terms of expanding the character of Magua to the point that he was sort of an antihero, but he had his qualities. He had his reasons for doing what he was doing,” Studi told ABC News about his role in “The Last of the Mohicans.” “He and the writer were open to that [and] were creating more of a three-dimensional character.”

Studi said it can be frustrating when it comes to playing characters that are not defined by being Native American. “I can understand the idea of wanting to get away from leathers and feathers. But it’s a double-edged sword in its own way,” he said. “Westerns and or period pieces in which Native Americans are portrayed have been the starting point and the bread and butter of Native American actors. Fortunately I’ve been able to cross over in a few roles over the years. Sometimes it’s a matter of two steps forward and one step back.”

Along with Studi, the Academy also recognized directors Lina Wertmuller and David Lynch, and actress Geena Davis. The Associated Press notes that Canada-born Cree musician Buffy Sainte-Marie won an Oscar in 1982 as co-writer for best song, “Up Where We Belong.”