The release will be timed to lead up to November’s Native American Heritage Month, the annual celebration of indigenous culture and heritage.
“Te Ata” also stars Graham Greene (“Dances With Wolves”) and Gil Birmingham (“Twilight”). Mackenzie Astin, Brigid Brannagh, and Cindy Pickett round out the principal cast.
The production company on “Te Ata” is Chickasaw Nations Productions. Paul Sirmons is the producer. Nathan Frankowski (“To Write Love on Her Arms”) directed from a script by Jeannie Barbour and Esther Luttrell, which is set primarily in the early 20th century and tells the story of Mary Frances Thompson, a young Chickasaw woman born in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), better known as “Te Ata,” which means “bearer of the morning.”
She was an actress, dancer, model, and storyteller who appeared on the cover of McCall’s magazine and landed several roles on Broadway. Te Ata was best known for her performances of Native American culture and traveled the U.S. and Europe performing, including at the first state dinner hosted by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and King George VI of England in 1939 at Roosevelt’s home at Hyde Park, N.Y.
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Chickasaw Nation governor Bill Anoatubby said, “Te Ata defied stereotypes on various levels as a Native American as well as a woman at a time when either presented difficulties and challenges. Yet she celebrated both and did so in a way that brought honor to those she represented.”
Te Ata married Clyde Fisher, a long-time scientist and educator at the American Museum of Natural History who founded the Hayden Planetarium. Famous friends and acquaintances of the couple included scientist Albert Einstein, composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Broadway actress Nanette Fabray.
Kilcher broke out at age 14 with her portrayal of Pocahontas opposite Colin Farrell and Christian Bale in director Terrence Malick’s “The New World” in 2005. She appeared in the series “Sons of Anarchy,” “Longmire,” and “Neverland.”
“We are delighted to bring this story to audiences because Te Ata was a great ambassador for Chickasaw people and for all Native Americans,” Anoatubby said. “Te Ata once wrote that art binds all people together. Her career bears testimony to the truth of that noble idea. Through this film, she continues to serve as a shining example of the power of artistic expression to change hearts and minds.”
As a companion piece to the dramatic feature, the Chickasaw Nation has also completed a documentary about Te Ata titled “Bearer of the Morning.” It’s also in post-production on “The Chickasaw Rancher,” re-teaming director Frankowski with Mackenzie Astin, and also starring Dermot Mulroney.