Just One Protagonist in the Top 1,600 Theatrical Films From the Last 16 Years Was Native American, Study Finds

The latest Annenberg Inclusion Initiative research brief found that Native Americans comprised just 133 of 62,224 speaking characters – and only 99 of those roles were played by Native actors.

As the Native American star of a major Hollywood movie, Killers of the Flower Moon’s leading lady Lily Gladstone will be in rare company, but just how rare?

That’s what the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative set out to analyze in its latest research brief, using its long-running data collection on the 100 highest-grossing theatrical movies from 2007 to 2022. The group found that among those 1,600 films, there was just one Native American lead character: Dani Moonstar, played by Blu Hunt, from the 2020 superhero ensemble film The New Mutants. (The 2022 sleeper hit Prey, starring Amber Midthunder as a young Comanche woman who singlehandedly defeats the Predator, received a streaming-only domestic release and as such was not included in the research.)

Native Americans represent just 1.3% of the real-life population, according to the U.S. Census, and even less onscreen (0.25% — not 25%, but 0.25% — of speaking characters). What’s more, only 99 of these 133 Native American movie roles were played by actual Native Americans – a total of 45 men and 19 women. Forty-nine of these 64 Native actors appeared in just one movie from the last 16 years. Only two women were cast more than once (they were part of the Twilight franchise, which was responsible for 29.3% of the Native characters in the study).

“Put simply, there is no career sustainability for Native actors in Hollywood. Working once in 16 years does not pay the bills or allow for creative and fulfilling work that builds a resume or reel,” AI2 founder Stacy L. Smith, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “By limiting the number of roles for Native actors, Hollywood is closing the door to the careers that these talented actors want to have.”