Q’orianka Kilcher made her mark at the tender age of 14 years old, when she was cast as Pocahontas in Terrence Malik’s 2005 The New World. The daughter of a Quechua-Huachipaeri Peruvian has lent her celebrity to human rights and environmental causes through her own ‘on-Q Initiative/Action Hero Network’ organization – you can count the time she chained herself to the gates of the White House covered in a mysterious liquid, causing a major security breach which then prompted hazmat crews to lock down the premises, forcing Peruvian president Alan Garcia to enter through a side service entrance during his visit, as one of her dopest moments. In 2006 she teamed up with writer/director Leone Marucci and produced The Power of Few under her newly formed iQ Films production company. The film, described as an “interactive” film, not only held worldwide online auditions for a role in the film (the role was filled by a non-professional actress from Malta), they posted all the raw footage from a particular scene in the film and invited filmmakers and fans to craft their own version of the scene and the winning edit is actually used in the film. Shooting the film in New Orleans also gave Kilcher and Marucci the idea to present opportunities to the homeless, underprivileged youth, senior citizens and aspiring artists, to fill paid positions and participate in the making of Power Of Few. And all this before she turns 23 years old.
LatinoBuzz: At what moment did you decide that acting was what you wanted to do?
Q’orianka: Actually I always wanted to be a singer and so, when I was 5 years old, I started acting classes so I could be a better performer. I wanted to have a powerful voice so I could be heard.
LatinoBuzz:You started at an early age in Hollywood, but instead of going the route of many starlets you chose to become politically active – for both environmental and indigenous rights – why did they become so important to you?
Q’orianka: I would like to start with saying that I don’t consider myself “politically active” at all… politics is the last thing which motivates or inspires me. I have always felt that politics (like religion) always divides us, so I always try the best I can to focus on the things which unite us as humanity, like our common need and right for clean water, air and soil – our equally deserved right to respect, freedom and dignity for all. I’m the farthest thing from politically active. The things I do, I do from the heart and out of love and respect for our planet and all living things. And I draw my courage from my love for justice and truth and I calm my fears by comforting those who are more scared than me. And I try to do my best to make the world a better place, one small action at a time as good as I can. But its getting harder and harder to just mind my business because at some point, silence is betrayal and we have to speak up and stand up to power and find the courage to defend justice, compassion and all the values we stand for. I’m really more just a dreamer with simple principles of respect, dignity and love passed down to me from my mom and my mentor. But I think humanity has been sleeping for way too long and it’s a good time for all of us to wake up and remember who we were meant to be.
LatinoBuzz: How did you come upon the script for ‘The Power Of Few’ and what about it made you want to produce it?
Q’orianka: I just had finished filming ‘The New World’ and was doing a lot of traveling to promote the film. It was an amazing chapter in my life, and I felt extremely blessed for having been given the opportunity to work with my most beloved director Terrence Malick, producer Sara Green and the amazing Emmanuel Lubezki, all while having experienced being “married” to Christian Bale and “kissed” by Colin Farrell all in one film! I knew I was extremely privileged and lucky for all the opportunities which suddenly had opened up for me, and while I really enjoyed all the jet setting all across the world, receiving awards, meeting new people and doing all sorts of interviews in connection with our film’s Oscar campaign, the one thing which in the end really stuck with me most was the incredible power of mentorship that I received along the way. I would never be where I am if it would not be for Terry, Sara, Colin, my family and all the colleagues and friends whose actions and insights have inspired and guided me on my journey as an artist and human being. It was this spirit of mentorship which inspired me to dream big and envision a day when I could use filmmaking as a tool to pay forward the blessings I’ve had in my life. So when Leon approached me with a script entitled ‘The Power Of Few’, the title not only grabbed my attention but also inspired me to imagine “What if”? My vision was to create a filmmaking process which would lend itself as some sort of mentoring event to inspire, empower and engage creative young minds to connect, collaborate, create and participate in a truly groundbreaking interactive and inclusive way. I think it is important as artists to always find the courage to challenge the status quo, not only through our art, but through who we are as people. For me ‘The Power of Few’ was always more than a film; it was an opportunity and chance to break down the barriers of conventional filmmaking while creating a connection between a young, passionate global audience and Hollywood. As a young artist in this time of internet and technology, I feel that we are at an important tipping point where we have the opportunity to step up to the challenges of the future by empowering audiences to be more than just a consumer, inviting them to be collaborators and participate and hold stake in the future of our industry. Having the power to make a difference and change the world through art. This is what originally inspired me to be an actress and artist.
LatinoBuzz: Do you find that actors – especially actors of color – are finding the necessity to produce their own work now? To essentially create a career for themselves?
Q’orianka: Absolutely YES! Why wait around? First of all, its fun to stay busy and creative and as we all know we don’t always get to to the kind of roles we might dream or feel inspired to play, due to the typical stereotyping of characters which is still noticeably present in this industry, so creating our own project not only empowers us to break that barrier but also hopefully helps us to slowly break down stereotypes. Period! Two, It allows us to show the world that in fact an actress of color can be absolutely believable playing, lets say a “regular girl next door” character because, in contrary to how these sorts of characters are usually portrayed in film, we are in fact that girl next door living in a modern multicultural and multiethnic society. Last but not least, I think it’s most important to create our own projects in a means to empower our voices and tell our stories to the world in our own words and with truth. There is an amazing power to film. And as we look into the future we all have a great opportunity and responsibility to be media warriors for positive social change. Through our work and the power of film we can help give a voice to our communities, culture and living traditions and shed light on many of the relevant issues facing the communities and our world.
LatinoBuzz: If you could re-make a film and play the lead – what’s the film?
Q’orianka: With so many amazing stories still waiting to be told, I think I would choose to skip the remake. Or maybe I would ask James Cameron to rewind time and cast me to play the role of Neytiri in ‘Avatar’ because I would have loved to have the powerful platform and public voice this highly successful film would have given me to speak out on behalf of my indigenous brothers and sisters around the world who are all struggling to protect some of the last pristine places on earth.
LatinoBuzz: You’ve actually played a few historical figures now. Is there a woman from history you admire?
Q’orianka: Wow, there are so many amazing woman in history I admire, so this could take a very long time. So to make it short, I will just highlight one who I had the honor to play: Princess Kai’ulani of Hawaii! Ka’iulani’s courage, compassion, diplomacy, grace and internal strength and dignity make her an amazing young role model, especially for young women. In her short years, Ka’iulani was a principled international diplomat, ahead of her time, who spoke out on behalf of her Peoples and nation. Princess Ka’iulani’s story does not only give us an insight into an important and often forgotten dark chapter of Hawaii’s history, but it also is a story of courage and hope and her life and plea for her people carries a message of absolute contemporary relevance in the context of the issues still faced by many of the 360 million indigenous peoples around the world who are struggling until this day for dignity, self determination and cultural survival. Being a young indigenous woman of descent and having spoken at the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples Rights in Washington DC myself at the age of 16, her story is very close to my heart.
LatinoBuzz: There was a lot of discussions on social media regarding ‘Argo’ and Ben Affleck’s decision to cast himself in the lead role of CIA operative Antonio Mendez, which drew the ire of many who felt he has enough opportunities presented to him and he could have cast a Latino. Do you think we have to reach that point where enough is enough of ‘white-washing’ characters? I just think of what it could mean to a young kid in the Bronx, East LA, South Side Chi’, to see someone like themselves presented as a hero.
Q’orianka: Well this is an age old story, and a very tiring one which has caused much harm on how we have been portrayed in films over the years. I do think its important for our youth to have their very own role-models they really can relate to and yes, it’s always a great day if a lead character, a hero or a significant role which is actually described in a particular ethnicity is actually played by a talented actor who is living proof that actors from this particular ethnicity are truly gifted, talented and superb actors. But I believe that in the name of our ‘Art’ we can all transform and morph into different characters. It is sad to think that many times it’s not so much for the art, but for the money and funding such choices are made. Personally, I welcome the challenge to prove myself as a versatile actress and I welcome the few moments where I might be cast despite my ethnicity to play a character I love. So, it’s a bit of a two sided sword, because if we have ever wish for Hollywood to be “color blind”, our argument can be quickly turned against us the next time we do an excellent job but lose the part to a white girl with blue eyes, just because the writer had described her with such physicalities.
LatinoBuzz: Name four people you want to break bread with?
Q’orianka: Hahaha, break bread? Well I would love to share some of my home baked bread with Tom Hanks and see if he likes it. I would like that! And the other three slices I’d like to share with my dear friends Gina Rodriguez, Jesse Garcia and Anthony Chavez!
LatinoBuzz: When you wake up in the morning what the most important thing on your mind?
Q’orianka: Hahahah! Hmmmm “Oh no! I forgot to move my car for street cleaning!!!” Hahaha! No, no, I like to listen to different interviews on TED, piece together my day and then dance around my kitchen to 80’s music while making breakfast.
LatinoBuzz: What do you hope the youngsters take away from your foundation after putting cameras into their hands?
Q’Orianka: The power to have their voices heard and tell their own stories from their own perspectives.
LatinoBuzz:Five years from now, Q’orianka…..?
Q’orianka: Ah, you see I used to be a planner. I used to have all these plans and think “Ah, I have my whole life figured out”, but then I realized no matter how much I plan: life happens! So I find myself living day to day trying to do my best, embracing every moment as a learning opportunity and chance to get to know myself a little more. I love life’s surprises and not knowing where the wind will take me. I would love to continue doing what I love to do, produce more films, create more art, sing more and travel the world. And to help create pilot projects and opportunities for youth in my community and around the world to find meaningful and fulfilling ways to connect, collaborate and create and follow their dreams. And perhaps who knows, maybe one day, if it’s written in the stars for me, maybe I start a little family of my own. But who knows?! First, I need to meet that “Mr. Right”!
Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights emerging and established Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow@LatinoBuzzon twitter.