A New Kind of Hollywood Dynasty

The Midthunder family . Photo: Lora Cunningham.

The Midthunder family. Photo: Lora Cunningham.

“Home is the place we find calm and solitude,” says Angelique Midthunder, the matriarch of the Midthunders, a ‘Hollywood’ family that has been working in the industry since the late 80’s. “It’s the opposite of our busy work lives. Our house is in a rural area at the end of a dirt road where literally all you hear are birds chirping and wind blowing.”

Yet the Midthunders, Angelique (an actress turned casting director), her husband David (an actor of HBO’s Westworld and Longmire fame) and daughter Amber (currently starring on FX series Legion) are not your typical Hollywood dynasty. They are a tight-knit, down-to-earth family, worlds away from the excess and glamorous lifestyle associated with the city and, specifically, those working in Hollywood. (For instance, only Amber actually lives in L.A. while David, who is Native American, still takes part in “all seven of the traditional rites and ceremonies of his people and practices his traditional religion daily.”) With all that went down this year in Hollywood that’s probably for the best. While they may not have been in the eye of the storm, the Midthunders are exactly what Hollywood is now trying to align itself with: authenticity and that overused buzzword, ‘diversity’.

In the past year there has been significant steps made towards representation and authenticity. Thanks to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and issues of whitewashing (see Cameron Crowe’s Aloha or Paramount’s Ghost in the Shell controversy), the spotlight was turned back on Hollywood, revealing its’ myriad of flaws when it comes to equality. No longer shiny and full of mystique, the film and television industry has begun to reassess and restructure and, in the spirit of that old adage ‘out with the old and in with the new’ are desperately trying to be more “woke” and inclusive. The emphasis on “inclusion riders”, for representation both in front of and behind the camera, is one such example. For her part, working behind the scenes, Angelique says that she has “noticed opportunities emerging for minorities - who have the talent, intelligence, and drive - where maybe those opportunities weren’t as prevalent before.” She points out that authenticity is key when casting actors but adds that she doesn’t believe “anything should be handed to anyone based on their skin color (and that goes both ways).”

Hollywood families throughout history: From the Fondas and Coppolas to the Waynes and Smiths. Photos: Vanity Fair.

The importance of authenticity in presenting a particular reality, then, is something Hollywood studio execs stereotyping and oversimplifying the stories and depictions of American ethnic groups should keep in mind. As this years summer blockbuster hits Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians proved, more authentic, diverse stories are the way forward, culturally and financially.

Audiences want to see an American onscreen– a reflection of America, and by extension, the world today. With their mixed-race background, the Midthunders are representative of an modern American family. According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, the number of mixed-race Americans is growing three times faster than the U.S. population as a whole. The U.S. Census projects the multiracial population will triple by 2060. In the 1970s, only 1 percent of children were of mixed race, today that number has grown to 10 percent.

Hollywood needs to get with the times. Representation onscreen is more than just ticking some boxes and meeting quotas for financial gain, it’s about non-white (and for that matter non-heteronormative) audiences being able to identify with characters onscreen in a way that doesn’t make them question their position or the ‘role’ they play in society. “I personally am a mix of ethnicities but predominantly I consider myself ‘All American’,” says Angelique. “That’s a definition I’m sure that is unique to every American in this day and age but what it means to me, overall, is that I have the freedom to be who I am.”

We spoke with the Midthunders about cultural integrity, empowerment, and bad Hollywood scripts.

What was your first job in Hollywood?

ANGELIQUE: Central Casting in Burbank. One of the shows I got to work on was Friends and I felt like I had seen the mountaintop!

DAVID: A Louis L’Amour western in the 80’s, Down the Long Hills.

AMBER: Sunshine Cleaning. I shot a scene with Alan Arkin on a Friday and that Sunday night watched him on TV receiving an Oscar.

What drew you to acting?

ANGELIQUE: I started working as an actress by accident. My first contact with the film industry was when I answered an ad for an “open call” in the want ads of a newspaper back in the 90’s. I did so thinking it was a “regular job” but it was for an acting job - which I ended up booking. Reflecting back on that I’m sure I booked that role having no acting experience simply because I didn’t overthink it (the character or the audition process). I simply didn’t know better at the time so I didn’t “try” at all. Casting was really a better fit for me. I’m a creative person but have no desire to be an entertainer. I also have good business sense, so it fell into place naturally over time.

DAVID: It was a happy accident of being in a weird place at the right time.

AMBER: It’s the thing I have loved all my life. It’s my passion.

David in HBO’s  Westworld .

David in HBO’s Westworld.

I was completely ignorant to many of the pitfalls in the business since I had never planned on becoming an actor in the first place.
— David Midthunder

What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out?

ANGELIQUE: Finding my way and building from the ground up... not knowing what the future holds and not knowing anyone or anything about Hollywood. Not knowing if you’re going to be able to make a living doing what you enjoy. But then - that’s for everyone, isn’t it? I mean, I suppose that getting a college degree in a certain major doesn’t guarantee a successful career in that field, either, so perhaps working in entertainment isn’t so different.

DAVID: I think the biggest challenge was also the biggest gift. I was completely ignorant to many of the pitfalls in the business since I had never planned on becoming an actor in the first place.

AMBER: Patience. There’s a lot of waiting in the unknown so you have to persevere. There’s a lot of faith involved.

What are your thoughts on the representation of Native Americans in Hollywood?

DAVID: It’s steadily been improving throughout my career. Seeing that Natives only make up  2% of the US population I don’t expect Natives to be in everything or our storylines to dominate mainstream Hollywood. I’m proud of the younger generation of Natives making their own films and with the growth of viewing platforms (like film festivals and on demand) there are more opportunities for Native content to be viewed. And not just limited to the western genre but to include contemporary universal storylines.

AMBER: I think recently there’s been a lot of action towards honest representation of a variety of minorities who have long been under represented and I don’t think we’re done growing. I think this is only the beginning of the depiction of ethnic people in modern society in entertainment. There are still many stories to be told and people to be seen.\

I work hard to discover uncovered talent in different populations so they can represent themselves accurately on screen.
— Angelique Midthunder

Hollywood is no stranger to racial stereotyping. Have you found it hard to maintain your cultural integrity in the industry?

ANGELIQUE: As far as maintaining cultural integrity in the film industry, I do my best to be true to whatever culture we are portraying in any particular film and a lot of that has to do with the writers, directors, and producers. I’ve found that if I’m working with a filmmaker that perhaps isn’t as educated on the culture that they are portraying, they are almost always open minded to learning more and doing their best to dedicate themselves to “getting it right.” I think, too, that is why they hire me specifically when casting culturally relevant themes. I do a lot of casting of Native Americans and other films with indigenous content but I’m also tasked with accurately casting films depicting all sorts of minorities such as LGBTQ, prison gangs, handicapped, you name it... I work hard to discover uncovered talent in different populations so they can represent themselves accurately on screen.

DAVID: No. Most of the projects I have been fortunate enough to work on have been made by producers and directors that are open to collaborating ideas and making adjustments to present an authentic Native American point of view.

AMBER: I’ve been fortunate to play a number of roles where the character has been of ethnic descent but that was nowhere near the focus point of any character. To me that is precisely representation at its fullest because race shouldn’t be the center point of any character - as it is not the only quality of someone you meet in real life. I’m a mix of many different cultures and ethnicities which means that I’m a blend of each and not to be defined by any one perception of who or what I am.

Did you have any reservations about your daughter entering the industry, especially in light of the #MeToo movement?

ANGELIQUE: Of course we have reservations but that’s not limited to her working in the industry. Honestly I worry more about LA traffic! I’m sure Amber will come in contact with unscrupulous people but I’m confident that she has a good head on her shoulders and knows to always trust her gut if she feels trepidation. Being in the business as a casting director has definitely informed my knowledge of what’s appropriate in a casting situation and I’ve definitely told her never to allow herself to be talked into anything that felt inappropriate like mens’ private residences or hotel rooms. I’d like all aspiring actresses to know that they are under no obligation to ever meet a producer / director in a private setting. It is ALWAYS ok to ask to meet at a studio, office, restaurant, etc and it is always ok to have a rep with you (agent, manager, parent) even if they wait in the lobby. It is a huge deterrent to a predatory person in power taking advantage if you insist on a professional environment. We can all empower ourselves in that way. This is what I believe will create true change in the way “Hollywood” operates.

DAVID: No. We’re very supportive of Amber’s choice to become an actor because she’s always displayed a natural talent and drive. My wife and I are aware that there can be a dark side to the entertainment industry and the advice we’ve given her is to always be diligent and to trust your intuition and always come to us if there’s a situation she has questions about or is uncomfortable with.

AMBER (on the #MeToo movement and her experience in Hollywood): I always think awareness is the foundation of any sort of social change. I think character should be a larger consideration in any work environment as well as in life. People now are in a time where we are learning how impactful it can be to use your voice.. And I’m excited to be a part of that time.

Amber in FX’s  Legion . Photo: FX Networks.

Amber in FX’s Legion. Photo: FX Networks.

I think recently there’s been a lot of action towards honest representation of a variety of minorities who have long been under represented and I don’t think we’re done growing. There are still many stories to be told and people to be seen.
— Amber Midthunder

What’s the worst script you’ve ever been given?

ANGELIQUE: I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you.

DAVID: I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you.

AMBER: I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you.

Who/What inspires you?

ANGELIQUE: I am inspired by faith, positivity, tenacity. I listen to Steven Furtick and TD Jakes daily. Tony Robbins. Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio are so inspirational that they have used her platform as actors to make a real difference in the world. And my daughter Amber. Often she speaks with such wisdom I’m like “where did that come from?”

DAVID: My tribal ancestors and the next seven generations to come after me.

AMBER: So many people it’s too much to list... A short list would be my parents, the Dalai Lama, and Margot Robbie.

The motto/quote you live by?

ANGELIQUE: Faith over fear. Let go and let God.

DAVID: In response to when I am asked “How are you?” I always answer “I’m good. I’m always good.” And that comes from having experienced the worst most painful day of my life and then having the spiritual awakening and awareness that as long as it’s not that day again, I’m good. I’m always good.

AMBER: “To not pay attention is to miss the wonder of being alive”

Song of choice for your American road trip?

ANGELIQUE: We are big road trippers! We did one road trip where we visited 14 states in 3 weeks just for fun. On that trip we played ‘name that tune’ with every single Led Zeppelin song.

DAVID: Maybe “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf… but I don’t have just one.

AMBER: “Little Pink Houses” by John Cougar Mellencamp / “Jolene” by Ray Lamontagne.

What’s next?

ANGELIQUE: More of the same. I love casting so it’s probably what I’ll do for my whole life.

DAVID: Get up at sunrise and smudge with sweetgrass.

AMBER: CW series Roswell, New Mexico, which premieres January 15, 2019. I’m currently shooting Legion Season 3.

Words: Emily Freedman