For the June edition of In the Lead, IWF member and film producer Gale Anne Hurd answers a few questions about her newest documentary, MANKILLER. Created in collaboration with Director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, MANKILLER tells the story of Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Wilma Mankiller was a member of IWF Oklahoma and inducted into the IWF Hall of Fame in 1992. She was elected twice as the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.
Gale Anne Hurd is a member of the Trusteeship (IWF Southern California) and IWF Georgia. In 2014, she was inducted into the IWF Hall of Fame. She is a film producer and the CEO of Valhalla Entertainment.
Tonight at the Los Angeles Film Festival, your latest documentary project, MANKILLER, will premiere. Could you tell us a bit more about the film and why it is important to tell Wilma’s story? Has telling her story changed you in any way?
Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in modern times. Her struggle to overcome obstacles, both personal and professional, in her quest to become a servant leader for her people, is a more important story to tell now in this divisive political environment than it was four years ago when we began making the documentary. Wilma’s courage and equanimity in the face of so many challenges has changed the way that I view the political landscape.
The outreach plan for MANKILLER could be described as nontraditional. You’ve really relied on grassroots fundraising and social media to get the message out. In many ways that plan mirrors the way Wilma worked in her life – through grassroots advocacy. Was this purposeful? How do you think the story has resonated?
When we realized that the initial funding from VisionMaker, while crucial to moving the project forward, would not be enough to finance the documentary, we looked to support from various communities, just like Wilma did. We received support from a wide range of supporters, from fans of my television series, THE WALKING DEAD, which features many strong female characters, to Native Americans, and people who discovered the project on Kickstarter, which included the Indigo Girls recording artists.
As a producer, you’re known for your work in science fiction – you’ve even been dubbed the ‘First Lady of Sci-Fi’ with production credits like The Terminator, The Walking Dead, and Armageddon, but you’ve also produced a number of documentaries about Native Americans. Why are you so drawn to telling these stories?
Native American stories have received short shrift in both narrative and non-fiction media, and I wanted to do what I could to help empower Native American storytellers in highlighting the remarkable contributions Native Americans have made to our nation and the world.
Earlier this year, in the build up to releasing MANKILLER, you and your team launched the #MyMankiller video. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration as it includes some phenomenal women?
The #MyMankiller video was launched for Women’s History Month as an effort to shine the spotlight, not only on Wilma Mankiller, but on overlooked women throughout history whose lives have inspired other women. We were able to include powerful commentary from women like Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Susan Herman, President of the ACLU, as well as Sonequa Martin-Green, who stars in the new Star Trek TV series, and many more women leaders across the country. The #MyMankiller video project was shot and edited by a volunteer crew nationwide, from New York to Mexico, as well as Los Angeles, DC and Tucson.
In a time when our country, and in fact, the world can seem divided by multiple factors – politics, race, culture, religion, geography and more – it seems there is no better point in time to be telling the story of an iconic unifier – what do you hope people learn and even act upon after seeing the film?
Wilma’s legacy was one of the inspirations for the Women’s March on Washington in January, but perhaps her most powerful lesson is one that celebrates bi-partisan government, reaching out across the aisle to serve the people who elected her, and to put their interests first.
MANKILLER is premiering tonight at the Los Angeles Film Festival, but how can those not at the festival view the film?
We will be screening in additional film festivals across the country this summer and fall, and the documentary will be broadcast nationally on PBS. Please follow us on Twitter on @mankillerdoc or check out our website at mankillerdoc.com for updates.