Native American actress Misty Upham never dreamt she would be walking the red carpet at Cannes to showcase a film shot on her reservation.
Upham features in Jimmy P, Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian, focused on the relationship between World War Two veteran Jimmy Picard, a Native American Blackfoot, and Georges Devereux, his psychoanalyst.
Upham said like Picard, played by Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro, she is Blackfeet, the largest tribe in Montana state. She said she was a direct descendant of the last chief and grew up on the reservation where much of the movie was filmed.
“I had no dreams and no way to make a dream. I had to leave the reservation,” Upham, 30, told a news conference on Saturday ahead of the premiere of the film’s premiere by French director Arnaud Desplechin.
“So 18 years later ... (I am) coming a full circle to the reservation I left to fulfil my dream.”
Upham says she and another Jimmy P actress, Michelle Thrush, a Cree from Canada, are the first Native American women in the official selection at Cannes, although organisers of the festival were unable to confirm it.
The oppression of Native Americans remains a stain on the history of the United States following the seizure of land, removal of children from families, and violation of treaties.
The 2010 census found 5.2 million people in the United States identified themselves as American Indians and Alaska Natives, while government figures this year showed they had the highest poverty rate in the country, at 27 per cent from 2007 through to 2011.
Upham, who plays the mother of Jimmy’s daughter, said the film recognised the different approach needed to treat psychological illness among Native Americans.
“We believe in spirits. We believe in ghosts. We believe in shape shifting. We believe in medicine and curses. We are very spiritual people,” said the actress, best known for the 2008 film Frozen River.
“What somebody else would call delusional, to us it is normal. That is why they had to create a new way to see what is going on in our minds without confusing the spirituality.”
Jimmy P is Desplechin’s fourth film selected for the main competition at Cannes, with the prestigious Palme D’Or for best picture to be awarded on the festival’s final day, May 26.