David Midthunder and Amber Midthunder
While her CW show Roswell, New Mexico was on pandemic hiatus, Amber Midthunder used the time to go off for a month to shoot a film called The Wheel, which she also produced, about a couple who takes off on a weekend trip to figure out their marriage.
Now she's back on the Santa Fe set for the third season of Roswell, New Mexico in which she plays Rosa Ortecho.
In another noteworthy turn, Midthunder (Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Reservation) worked with creator Noah Hawley in a breakout role on Legion, in which she portrayed Kerry Loudermilk during its three-season [2017-2019] run on FX.
During her burgeoning career, she's had several such prime opportunities to play memorable characters.
"Legion was a gift I am going to cherish for the rest of my life. It fulfilled me as an artist and a creative, to spend time with such a high volume of creative people," she says.
"I look at Roswell and I love Rosa. She's an addict and that's close to my heart. I feel fortunate to get to work in my hometown and spend time there, and I feel privileged to be there. And Hell or High Water [the 2016 film written by Taylor Sheridan] was a life-changing experience that will never leave me."
Midthunder is the daughter of actor David Midthunder. Her mother Angelique is a casting director. She says as a child she didn't really understand what they did for a living but she loved to play, pretend and use her imagination, not necessarily connecting it to making a career.
The way she remembers it, her dad went to work and wore funny hats. Sometimes she would visit him on the set and recalls it being very busy with a lot of machinery, a lot of yelling – and then things would get very quiet.
As she got older she developed an interest in her mother's line of work, seeing actors create variations of characters unlike who they were in real life. Yet she says neither her mom nor her dad were showbiz parents who steered her into the business.
"They never pushed it or suggested it to me. They waited for me to find out. But I feel grateful for that," Midthunder says. "I know what I do is mine but they're really good people and parents and created a wealth of knowledge."
"I consider myself fortunate. I feel like a Native Navy Seal, playing as many regular roles as possible to prove the point that Native people are in fact people. When you meet a Native person and not have it be the subject of the conversation, that's a good step. We're not one-size-fits-all. We're your doctor, your neighbor - and the girl on your TV."
Although traditional film and television Westerns, often featuring heroic cowboys and bloodthirsty Indians as typified in John Wayne movies were well before her time, she feels they propagated harmful misconceptions and stereotypes about Native peoples that have only recently begun to change.
"This generation feels like we're a lot further than we used to be. I feel like if you look at your history, we still have a lot to accomplish," Midthunder says. "I've struggled with this; we're not a very available people. Our history is not an open knowledge. Unless you're in touch with Native communities, you don't know.
"I know people working to bring the honest Native experience and tell those stories. We're not just one thing. Whatever you see, it's not just that. That's kind of the spark - being able to tell the full story. Native people have powerful stories to tell. It's about recognizing and creating those opportunities, reaching out to include them and see what they have to offer."
Having non-Native actors play Native roles has long been a controversial issue in the entertainment industry, as it is for other ethnicities.
"It's still happening, although not as bad compared to the John Wayne days, it's still there. We need more Native actors, and it goes to the conversation about resources and community and outreach and finding them.
"I think there's a difference between having respect for a culture and CLAIMING a culture. Particularly for Native people, we're such a small population with such little representation," Midthunder says.
"It's really important to have real Native people on screen, and connected to our ancestors, which is a big thing in our culture. Our great grandfather was here. You carry that with you with every job, every doctor, lawyer and superhero. There's an element that can't be replaced when it's a real Native person.
"I think about kids watching these shows who might want to do this and what does it say? To not receive the 'representation' is disorienting. It's important to have Native and to have non-specific roles be played by Natives especially."