Mary Thompson Fisher, a member of the Chickasaw Nation and a Native American performer, is the subject of a movie Durango Film festival will screen Saturday as part of Native American Heritage Month.
Fisher, who was born Dec. 3, 1895, was an actress for 60 years and used the stage name “Te Ata” (“Bearer of the Morning”). The film, named the same, is based on her true story of breaking down cultural barriers to become a successful Native American actor and storyteller who educated the world about her culture. She performed for President Franklin Roosevelt and British royalty and onstage for audiences across the country.
According to the “Te Ata” website, Fisher also worked as a drama instructor, but “is best known for her artistic interpretations of (Native American) stories and children’s book she co-authored on the subject.”
“This year, we thought it would be wonderful to bring a film that kind of showcases Native American characters, storylines, and possible direction,” said Crystal Delgai, director of Durango Film’s Native American program.
Delgai said the film festival was also looking for a movie to show outside the formal festival week. Actor Mackenzie Astin, who lived in Durango in the 1990s and who still has connections to the town and film festival, suggested “Te Ata.” Astin plays Te Ata’s husband, Dr. Clyde Fisher, in the movie.
Delgai said Durango Film wanted to jump-start the Native Cinema Program that is part of the annual festival.
“I believe it rounds out our community. There’s a diversity in our community, and sometimes, they don’t always get the spotlight,” Delgai said. “This kind of gives a bit of a highlight. ... it’s to educate and share a bit of our history and where we’ve come from.”
The film was shot in Oklahoma, and was produced by Chickasaw Nation Productions.
As part of Saturday’s Durango screening, actress Cindy Pickett, who plays Thompson’s theater instructor and mentor Frances Dinsmore Davis, will be at Animas City Theatre for a question-and-answer session after the film.
Pickett said playing the role of Davis was a homecoming, because she was born in Oklahoma.
“My grandparents’ farm was about 30 minutes from the Chickasaw nation. I grew up in that territory,” she said, adding that the film is important to her for other reasons, as well.
“I think any time we honor the indigenous people in the country, it’s important to remind ourselves where we come from,” she said. “I happen to have a real fondness for my home state Oklahoma. ... I also loved the role because my father was an acting teacher, and he was kind of a star-maker. He was a drama teacher in high school and college. ... He’s been gone for 20 years, so it was an homage to him, too.”