Apsáalooke Join the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Apsáalooke Join the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel’s latest cinematic franchise installment, Echo, features a deaf Choctaw superhero, as well as several scenes of Crow tribal members.  

Yolanda Old Dwarf, CeCe Ascensio and her daughter Princess, made an appearance during a powwow scene in episode 4 of the limited series.

Four Points Media, spoke with Old Dwarf, about her experiences within the MCU and how she became involved in the project. 

Yolanda Old Dwarf and Peshawn Bread on set of Marvel’s Echo in Atlanta, Georgia. /Courtesy photo

“I (had) seen a casting call for Indigenous dancers/singers/extras all over Facebook from like April to July of 2022,” Old Dwarf said. “I finally applied via a Google link early July and then got a call. I answered all their questions, then they told me the time and asked me if I was available.”

After receiving the confirmation of her role, along with the help of her mother, Old Dwarf made the decision to journey down to Atlanta and join other extras who had been on set already for a couple weeks filming. 

As with most huge projects, most involved in the project are sworn to secrecy by a nondisclosure agreement, and Old Dwarf was also held to the same standards of privacy.

“They told me during the initial interview that (the filming) was for Echo, a spin-off from Hawkeye. I thought that was the coolest thing,” Old Dwarf said. 

Hawkeye, a main Marvel character from The Avengers, played by Jeremy Renner who received his own television show.

Anything that can potentially leak any information or scenes is strictly forbidden on set, and Old Dwarf said that cellphones were confiscated and locked up whenever the cameras were rolling. 

“We were required to lock up our phones at the beginning of filming, they gave us phone pouches that could only be unlocked by them” Old Dwarf said, “Needless to say many of us had phone withdrawals.”

Filming can be quite an undertaking, and Old Dwarf says that her time on set was no different. Coming from Montana to Georgia, there are quite a bit of adjustments to be made, mainly heat adjustment and culture shock.

“The filming took place about an hour south of Atlanta. It was pretty remote and in the middle of summer, so it was very hot and humid. I wasn't used to that kind of weather at all. They set up the powwow scene at an old airport,” said Old Dwarf. “The first scenes that I got to film were the powwow scenes. Thankfully it was filmed overnight so it wasn't as hot as it could have been.”

Actors were given about two hours time to prepare for the scene they would be filming, and then ushered into their various marks and given further instructions. 

Yolanda Old Dwarf in Atlanta, GA during filming of Marvel’s Echo. / Courtesy photo

“They did such an amazing job for the pow wow!” Old Dwarf said, “There were actual vendors, there were extras running the booths, actual businesses there that were running their booths. The cultural advisor Peshawn Bread did an amazing job having been a powwow dancer herself.” 

Bread, a Comanche native and consultant for the film, is a model and fashion icon in the Native social circles as the daughter of powwow royalty, Keri Jhane Myers.

On top of meeting fashion icons on set, Old Dwarf also spoke on her experiences meeting other native celebrities and figures. 

“There was entertainment from Dallas Goldtooth as the Powwow emcee,” said Old Dwarf. “Extras would crash out on the bleachers because of the waiting and overnight shooting. I didn’t get to see Alaqua Cox, (main character). I think they only had her that day that I wasn’t there. I had to go get my fitting for the stick ball scene.”

Although unable to meet the main character of the show, Old Dwarf nonetheless had a blast on set. 

“I got to be an extra in the stick ball scenes,” she said. “Nothing too special there, I did get to cheer on Tatanka Means and Juwan Lakota, as well as the amazing stunt doubles. They even filmed an alternate ending.” 

According to Old Dwarf, on the second or third day, when filming of the main scenes was wrapped, the actors all celebrated by gathering up to watch them play Choctaw stickball for real. 

“So intense,” said Old Dwarf. “That part of the filming required a lot of hair and makeup. We had to get to the motor speedway super early, get our wardrobe on then and wait in line for hair and makeup.”

Old Dwarf said that on set, costume production covered up her personal tattoos, put a lot of makeup on her face, then put traditional tribal Choctaw tattoos on her.

Old Dwarf says that she and the other actors bussed over to a remote field that had a small air conditioned tent for them to cram into due to the intense Georgia heat and humidity. 

“It was so hot,” said Old Dwarf. ”In between takes we’d find shade, drink as much water as possible and the hair and makeup would come to touch us up and give us towels to pat off the sweat. They had craft services for us, and bussed us to lunch. I think I almost got a heat stroke.  They took full body scans of us on both sets, so now Disney owns my image.”

The amount of people it took to make such a project happen was exponential according to Old Dwarf.

“I got to participate in the last three days of the powwow scenes and met a lot of cool people.” said Old Dwarf, “They had photographers taking photos, I’m not sure if I’ll ever see them. And I got to convince the drum to sing a Crow hop,” she said. “I met a couple of Apsáalooke ladies, and it felt awesome that there were fellow Apsáalooke there.” 

Crow Indians on the silver screen is something we are not totally averse to, with several hundred extras being featured in Little Big Man back in 1963.

There have also been Crow Indians featured on major films over the years to most recently including Jeremiah Johnson, The Revenant, Cowboys & Aliens, and the Yellowstone Franchise, including both 1883 and 1923.

While the filming aspect of making movies is always a fun time, the real work comes in during the editing process. Knowing which scene to string together to best tell the story. 

Old Dwarf spoke about how it felt for her personally to see herself on the screen for the first time, to see the image of herself after nearly a year of waiting when filming concluded. 

“I had to binge the show as soon as it was released because I feel like I’ve been waiting forever. I was so sure they wouldn’t include me in any of the scenes, but there we were, us Crows! Randomly! It’s unbelievable and so surreal! I'm so glad I was able to take advantage of the opportunity!”

Old Dwarf, being a fashion designer herself with her own clothing line Sweet Sage Woman Designs, states that while she doesnt have any other acting projects on her table at the moment, she definitely would return to acting if given the chance. 

“I wish I had more opportunities, because I thoroughly enjoy acting. Life’s been keeping me extremely busy at the moment, but if an opportunity does come along and I’m able to juggle everything, I will definitely take it.”

Old Dwarf filmed another independent film during the quarantine a few years ago.

“I did recently have a release of my first film, filmed in the winter of 2020, called Slant Streets” Old Dwarf said. “It was so awesome to go attend the Culver City Film Festival for its release. I hope the executive producer premiers it in Missoula where it was filmed and that it will be available for streaming soon.”

Among the growing list of things to keep an eye out for, there is another view on the horizon coming, and that is the age of Crow Indians in Hollywood. While opportunities come along in their own time, it cannot be denied that Crow Indians are becoming more and more mainstream as they take the opportunities in the filming, fashion, and media industries.

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