Native American actress proud to walk Cannes red carpet

Director Arnaud Desplechin (2ndR) and cast members Gina McKee (R), Misty Upham (2ndL) and Michelle Thrush pose during a photocall for the film 'Jimmy P.' (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) at the 66th Cannes Film Festival Credit: Reuters
Director Arnaud Desplechin (2ndR) and cast members Gina McKee (R), Misty Upham (2ndL) and Michelle Thrush pose during a photocall for the film ‘Jimmy P.’ (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) at the 66th Cannes Film Festival
Credit: Reuters

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 and another “Jimmy P.” actress, Michelle Thrush, a Cree from Canada, are the first Native American women in the official selection at Cannes, although organizers of the festival, now in its 66th year, were unable to confirm it.

One of 20 films competing for the main prize at the 12-day event on the French Riviera, the movie was inspired by a true story in Devereux’s 1951 book “Reality And Dream”.

Set in 1948, the film follows Jimmy as he checks into a military hospital in Topeka, Kansas, that specializes in mental illness for war veterans to be treated for numerous symptoms, including temporary blindness, hearing loss and dizzy spells.

The doctors are baffled by his psychological problems and decide to call in anthropologist and psychoanalyst Devereux (Mathieu Amalric) a specialist in Native American culture who spent two years living with the Mojave Native Americans.

Del Toro, who won the best actor award at Cannes in 2008 for “Che”, said it was important for him to understand the history of Native Americans to get to grips with his character.

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 percent, from 2007 through 2011.

Upham, who plays the mother of Jimmy’s daughter, said the film recognized 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.


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