When history fails to preserve stories from our past and present, it’s up to us to correct the record. Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, is omitted from most history books despite ranking among revolutionary leaders like Harriet Tubman or Eleanor Roosevelt. She was an activist and a champion to a nation – and it’s time the world remembers her name.
MANKILLER is a documentary celebrating a leader who defied all odds to make a difference for her people. During a time when American Indians found themselves disenfranchised and undervalued by the United States at large, Wilma emerged as a champion of the Cherokee Nation and became its first female Principal Chief in 1985.
This film is the passion project of director/producer Valerie Red-Horse (owner/founder of Red-Horse Native Productions, Inc.) and producer Gale Anne Hurd, the “First Lady of Sci-Fi”. Although Gale is best known as the producer of iconic science fiction including THE TERMINATOR trilogy, ALIENS, and AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD, she previously produced two documentaries directed and produced by Valerie – TRUE WHISPERS and NAVAJO CODE TALKERS. Now, she and Valerie are bringing to life the true story of a Cherokee leader who possessed the same heroic traits as Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. Both Valerie and Gale are passionate about Wilma’s story and have joined forces with their friends and colleagues to share it with the world.
"It is crucial to tell stories like Wilma's that inspire women across the globe to have their voices heard. I am happy the documentation of her struggle will be in the capable hands of Gale Anne Hurd and Valerie Red-Horse."
-- Liz Garbus, Emmy-winning and Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker (THE FARM: ANGOLA, USA; BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD; GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB)
117 years after the US relocated the Cherokee Nation from their traditional homeland in Georgia and North Carolina – and forced them to walk 2,000 miles in winter to Oklahoma – Wilma endured her own government-mandated relocation from Oklahoma to Northern California. It was there, standing on the front lines of the civil rights movements of the 60s and 70s, that she developed her politically revolutionary mind. She carried that passion for progress with her into the office of Principal Chief decades later.
Under Wilma’s leadership, the Cherokee became one of the strongest Indian Tribes in America. Wilma’s focus on economic development and national healthcare helped the Nation to re-assert its self-governance. During Wilma’s tenure, the Cherokee Nation saw its population of registered citizens nearly double, from 68,000 to 170,000. Beyond her policies and programs, Wilma enabled the Cherokee to come together, taking pride in its history while planning for its future.
None of Wilma’s accomplishments was easily achieved. When she came into office, the existing Cherokee leadership was unconvinced that a woman could handle the job of Principal Chief. Wilma endured rampant sexism – including personal and physical attacks. In the midst of this struggle, she demonstrated a quiet strength and unwavering resolve that won over her opposition.
“Prior to my election, young Cherokee girls would never have thought that they might grow up and become Chief.”
In 1998, President Bill Clinton honored Wilma with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She enjoyed brief mainstream attention when Ms. Magazine named her their 1987 Woman of the Year, and she was even inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993. Despite this recognition, we are in danger of losing her story to time.
MANKILLER seeks to capture Wilma’s revolutionary life on film and preserve it for years to come. Our goal is to make “Wilma Mankiller” a household name, to give her the same recognition as the trailblazers that came before her and to serve as an inspiration for future generations. A mix of biography and historical storytelling, it will illuminate, entertain, and galvanize viewers to follow Wilma’s example and rebel against the status quo.
A message from director and producer Valerie Red-Horse:
“Being a Native American female, the opportunity to tell the inspiring story of Wilma Mankiller’s life and legacy is extraordinary. The support and interest we have garnered, even thus far, from subjects and organizations are tremendous. I am thrilled to be reunited with award-winning producer, Gale Anne Hurd. Gale and I have been very fortunate in that our past documentaries are embraced by the Native community. We have fostered and garnered trust as filmmakers to be true to our subjects.
In our documentary, the audience will follow Mankiller’s life through personal, community, political, and family stories. Charlie Soap, Wilma’s widower, is on board as one of the documentary’s producers with Kristina Kiehl (Wilma’s close friend and manager of her campaigns) and Gina Olaya (Wilma’s daughter) also joining the production team. We will gain unique access to subjects, materials, and rare footage that will bring her story to life.
“We must trust our own thinking. Trust where we're going. And get the job done.”
MANKILLER will shed light on important issues raised in Wilma’s life, such as sexism, racism, community empowerment, self-help, and team building. The documentary itself is designed thematically, as an inspiration to encourage further research, exploration, and discussion about Wilma and her contributions to the Cherokee Nation. There will be media links, classroom viewer guides, and social media networking, so that the audience can be encouraged to explore more about Wilma’s legacy, the Cherokee Tribe, cultural traditions, the path to healing, community organizing, bridge building, and the Cherokee philosophy Wilma lived by: GA-DU-GHI , ‘being of good mind.’”
“Real Native American stories are grievously absent in America's film lexicon. A descendant of the horrific Trail of Tears, Wilma Mankiller grew up in government squalor, yet she managed to become one of the most significant activists for Native American rights, working tirelessly to improve conditions for her people. Mankiller broke down barriers with humility and grace, becoming the first female elected principal chief of Cherokee Nation. Mankiller's story is a triumph, proving that not even genocide can hold a people down. This is a great American story that needs to be told. Please help these filmmakers tell it.”
-- Jillian Ke'haunani Moul, Documentary film and television editor FAME HIGH (Tribeca Film Festival Best Documentary Nominee), NATIVE SOIL (Oscar Shortlist), TIME OF DEATH (2014 IDA Award for Best Limited Series)
WHO WE ARE
Valerie Red-Horse, a director of Cherokee ancestry, is the owner/founder of RED-HORSE NATIVE PRODUCTIONS, INC., which has become the preeminent collaborator with American Indian tribal nations to bring important Native stories accurately and respectfully to the screen. Red-Horse’s body of work spans over two decades of film and television content creation and production; always providing insightful, sensitive and unique perspectives for both the historical and contemporary indigenous story. The Company’s premiere feature film, NATURALLY NATIVE, was an official Sundance Festival selection, which Red-Horse wrote, produced, co-directed, starred in, and distributed. Red-Horse followed with the WWII PBS/ITVS award winning documentary TRUE WHISPERS: THE STORY OF THE NAVAJO CODE TALKERS, produced with Gale Anne Hurd of Valhalla Entertainment. Red-Horse also produced/directed a follow up program, again with Hurd, CHOCTAW CODE TALKERS (Vision Maker Media/PBS).
Gale Anne Hurd, known as the "First Lady of Sci-Fi," is a producer of Academy Award-winning films and Emmy-winning programs that shatter box office and ratings records. Hurd’s career as a Producer was launched when she produced and co-wrote THE TERMINATOR. This success was quickly followed by ALIENS, which received seven nominations and two Academy Awards, and the Academy Award winning films THE ABYSS, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, and THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS. Hurd’s additional feature credits include the Academy Award-nominated ARMAGEDDON, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, TREMORS, DANTE’S PEAK, ÆON FLUX, THE PUNISHER, DICK, and THE WATERDANCE. She also produced two documentaries on Native American subjects, TRUE WHISPERS: THE STORY OF THE NAVAJO CODE TALKERS and CHOCTAW CODE TALKERS. Hurd is Executive Producer of THE WALKING DEAD, which currently reigns as the most-watched scripted drama.
“The secret of our success is that we never, never give up.”
In case you missed our updates, we posted some new AMAZING rewards that are still available, including:
- A customized outgoing voicemail message recorded by Norman Reedus, Michael Rooker, or Danai Gurira from THE WALKING DEAD!
- A spaghetti dinner with Hershel himself, Scott Wilson
- Go shootin’ with Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) at his private shooting range
- A 10-minute Skype call with THE WALKING DEAD’s Steven Yeun (Glenn)
- Tickets to a live taping of TALKING DEAD hosted by Chris Hardwick (you can attend a recording of the Nerdist Podcast, too!)
- Gorgeous prints by Cherokee artists Bill Rabbit and Traci Rabbit.
- This original canvas giclee by Bill Rabbit!
- These beautiful, one-of-a-kind framed animation cels by Native American artist Dawn Jackson (Saginaw Chippewa).
- A 5-piece set of Native American jewelry, created and signed by Zuni artist Anselm Wallace.
Of course, we can't forget about some of the original rewards!
MANKILLER is a passion project for us. Vision Maker Media funded the Research and Development phase and has committed to fund half of the final documentary budget. Thanks to their support, we have already filmed over 20 hours of interviews. We are seeking only the remaining amount needed to complete production and post-production on a well-crafted film worthy of Wilma’s story; there is no profit in it for us. Every dollar we raise will go towards the production of MANKILLER, and any amount we raise above our goal will help us to ensure that each element of the film is of the highest quality.
Here are some of the things your support will enable us to do:
- Hire the most skilled crew for interviews and post-production.
- Use top-of-the-line equipment, including cameras and sound.
- License photos and video clips to highlight Wilma’s story.
- Produce educational materials for classrooms and the Web to keep the conversation going.
We are turning to Kickstarter so we can make MANKILLER without compromises. With your help, we can make a film that is beholden only to Wilma’s legacy and to you, our supporters.
NOTE: TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION
Your donation is tax deductible! MANKILLER is a fiscally sponsored project of the International Documentary Association (IDA), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions on behalf of MANKILLER are payable to IDA and are tax deductible less the value of any goods or services received, as allowed by law. The value of goods and services being offered is noted under each donation level. If you would like to deduct the entire donation you have the option to simply decline the reward at check out.
MANKILLER in the news!
KROQ 106.7 FM: Gale Anne Hurd on the Kevin & Bean Podcast
Indian Country: 'Walking Dead' Producer Sets Out To Tell Wilma Mankiller's Story
Risks and challenges
Filmmaking is a risky venture by nature. A documentary such as MANKILLER, which weaves together interviews from dozens of people, is subject to scheduling and logistics, among other variables. Our veteran team has years of filmmaking experience to guide us as we bring MANKILLER to life.
This film would not be possible without your support, so as a ‘thank you’ to all of our new friends, we will be keeping you up-to-date every step of the way. You will receive special updates, new reward choices, and exclusive photos. We plan to fulfill all rewards by February 2016, although that may be subject to change and availability.
The Cherokee word for family is “Si da ne lv hi,” and we would like to welcome you to ours.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter