Monday, October 19, 2015

Gregory D. Smithers's "The Cherokee Diaspora"

Gregory D. Smithers is associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of numerous books and articles about Native American and African American history.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity:
The Cherokee Diaspora is filled with incredible stories about people both known and unknown to historical writing. If a movie was to be made that was based on my book I’d suggest a film about Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary and a man whose personal history embodied the ideals of Cherokee ingenuity, determination, and strength of spirit.

There’s only one actor who could play the lead role: Wes Studi. Studi’s a Cherokee actor and is brilliant in everything he appears in. In the recent comedy short Ronnie BoDean he was amazing. Studi has skill and range as an actor; I think he was born to play the role of Sequoyah.

Hollywood has a long history of using racial clichés to represent Native people. In fact, there’s been surprisingly little cinematic treatment of Cherokee history, including the infamous Trail of Tears. A film focused around Sequoyah would begin the process of correcting Hollywood’s past errors and present audiences with a complex portrayal of a Cherokee hero.

Sequoyah was born in what is today Tennessee around 1770 to a white father and a Cherokee mother. His mother, a role that’d be perfect for Kimberly Guerrero (an enrolled member of the Colville Tribe, and who also has Salish-Kootenai and Cherokee ancestry), raised her son with the assistance of her brothers. This upbringing provided Sequoyah with the springboard from which he invented the Cherokee system of writing, a syllabary that he believed would remind Cherokees that they, like the white man, could also speak without talking.

But Sequoyah’s life involved more than his invention of the syllabary. He was also prominent in Cherokee politics, was part of Cherokee migrations to the Arkansas Valley and Indian Territory prior to the Trail of Tears, and breathed his last breathe while visiting family in Mexico. Sequoyah, in other words, lived a diasporic life and gave diaspora Cherokees the ability to communicate in their own language over vast distances.

Who else but Wes Studi could do cinematic justice to such an important Cherokee life?
Visit Gregory D. Smithers's website, and learn more about The Cherokee Diaspora at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue