In the midst of a dire immigration policy debate and an emerging voice for female empowerment, British filmmaker Susanna White’s upcoming Western drama, ‘Woman Walks Ahead,’ could not have emerged at a more appropriate time.
“This is a film that’s a Western, but it turns traditional Western on its head. You know, people who normally don’t have a voice in Westerns –women and indigenous people, get to be heard,” said White at a special New York screening for the film this past Tuesday. “I hope it’ll make people think about the value of the amazing indigenous culture that was in this country before Washington took hold. I hope it’ll make people think about immigration policies, and who has a right to be here.”
Woman Walks Ahead follows the true story of Brooklyn painter Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain) as she sets out to Standing Rock in order to paint the one and only Chief Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes). Catherine arrives only to be greeted by an unprecedented hostility from the U.S. troop leaders stationed there. When an unlikely connection sparks between Catherine and Chief Sitting Bull, and when his life is continuously put under scrutiny, Catherine must stand her ground and fight for what she believes.
As a Western film that is told from a female perspective, and one that gives voice to indigenous characters, lead actor Jessica Chastain hopes to inspire audiences to reflect deeply at our pressing, modern circumstances.
“I hope they (the audience) walk away from the film and are left with one question of ‘how can I be an ally? How can I be of service to others?’ And that’s something that I felt that Catherine Weldon was always questioning… What she can do to help others,” said Chastain.
Chastain continued to explain how current U.S. conflicts facing immigration are attempts for history to repeat itself, but it is up to us to prevent this horrific phenomenon from doing so.
“Every day I open the news and read stories about children being separated from their families and being adopted into American culture and it breaks my heart because that’s exactly what happened to indigenous people. They were taken away from their families and they were forced to only speak English and to wear Western clothes. The Lakota language is basically a dead language now because of it,” said Chastain. “This country worked very hard to eliminate all indigenous culture. I think that it’s something that’s woven into the fabric of our nation. I don’t think it’s a new thing that’s happening in the world, and I think we need to examine who we are as a people and confront it.”
Despite the heartbreaking news stories that continue to grace headlines, Chastain remains hopeful for the immense progress the nation has already taken strides in, especially when it comes to female representation and an evolving conversation surrounding these vital social issues.
“There’s sad things happening, but also there’s beautiful things that are happening, and sometimes we don’t focus on that,” said Chastain. “I really see a step forward in terms of women working together, women supporting other women, women feeling the safety of being able to come forward […] and they’re receiving support in a way that they hadn’t before.”
Woman Walks Ahead is available now in theaters. Check out a trailer for the film below!