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It wasn’t long ago that the world of Hollywood seemed to be a closed door for many actors if they didn’t fit into the template of what was apparently required. In short, these requirements mostly appeared white and attractive, making millions of people feel like they weren’t represented when they watched TV or went to movie theaters.

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You can see these actors boss it on TV and in movies

Thankfully, after the #OscarsSoWhite fiasco that gained traction in January 2015, (you can read about the phrase’s significance over at Britannica) things have started slowly improving for people of color actors. Whilst it has by no means suddenly become perfect, and there’s still a long way to go, it is refreshing that more voices from marginal communities are now being heard in entertainment. 

This rings true for actors from Indigenous backgrounds, who are fully embracing the roles that they now find themselves in contention for. We’ve chosen two talented actors then, one female and one male, who are becoming more and more recognized for their fantastic work. They’re getting to flex their fabulous acting skills, by getting the opportunity to play fully fleshed out characters, and truly bossing it.

Paulina Alexis 

This rising star has burst onto the scene in the past few years, and is quickly solidifying herself as a captivating screen presence. Paulina Alexis was born in 2001, and is a Stoney tribe member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in central Alberta, Canada, which is where she grew up. Interestingly, she comes from a long line of cultural artists and scholars, so she always seemed destined to find stardom. 

Don’t think for a second though, that anything other than her acting ability has her making such big waves on the scene, as her burgeoning career isn’t to do with the usual Hollywood nepotism. She’s known for her dynamic role as Willie Jack in the smash-hit TV show Reservation Dogs. The series is revolutionary, in that it is about a group of Indigenous teenagers, starring a cast of Indigenous actors, and it actually was fully written and shot by a group of Indigenous writers and directors, making it a remarkable breath of fresh air. It was created by filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, and Taika Waititi, who is actually of Maori descent in New Zealand. 

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Alexis’s career is in its infancy, but off the back of her fabulous performance in Reservation Dogs, she’s already popped up in last year’s Ghostbusters Afterlife movie, and we can’t wait to watch as her filmography develops. 

Zahn McClarnon 

Swiftly becoming a veteran of both the small and the silver screen, Zahn McClarnon has carved his way into the public consciousness by a number of breathtaking performances in some massive productions. Born in 1966, in Denver, Colorado, to a father with Irish ancestry, and a Hunkpapa Lakota mother. Growing up, he used to regularly visit both the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, to see his maternal grandparents, and also the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which is where his mother resided. He also enjoys giving back to the community, as his appearance at the American Indian College Fund highlights, which we reported on here at Native News Online

He got the acting bug after encouragement from his high-school drama teacher, and decided to move to Los Angeles in the early 90’s. Picking up bit-parts in movies, it wasn’t until 2012 that McClarnon started getting meatier roles, such as in the TV show Longmire, where he played Officer Mathias for twenty-nine episodes. From there though, his career exploded, with him starring in critically acclaimed shows like Westworld, and movies like the supernatural horror Doctor Sleep. 
Our favorite performance of his so far though, is in the darkly comic crime show Fargo’s second season. McClarnon played Hanzee Dent, a Vietnam vet who feels betrayed by the country he served, and is employed as a hitman by a local crime family. Despite seeming like a remorseless killing machine at first, McClamon was able to bring real depth to the character, as his rich humanity was gradually revealed as the season progressed.