Back in April of 2023, Native Max Magazine’s ‘Expanding Indigenous Women’ issue came onto the scene featuring Amber Midthunder. We sat down with the talented actress to learn more about her work in the entertainment industry and her passion for film.
Amber Midthunder (Fort Peck Assiniboine/Sahiya Nakoda/Hunkpapa Lakota/Sisseton Dakota) did something no one else has done before–she played a Comanche action star and Native woman lead named Naru, who protected her tribe from a murderous advanced alien in the sci-fi thriller part of the Predator franchise, “Prey.” Set in the 1700s pre-colonial, the exhilarating tale takes place in Comanche country and follows Midthunder’s Naru as she searches for a mysterious threat lurking in the forests. The film, with its fighting sequences and hunting sprees, celebrated the resiliency of Native people. It presented an accurate history that depicted how innovative and intelligent Native people were–and continue to be–and Midthunder’s role as the hero redefined how Natives are portrayed in Hollywood.
We’re in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for Midthunder’s interview and photoshoot for the cover of our annual Empowering Indigenous Womanhood issue. She was excited to be back in Santa Fe, where she grew up. To be sitting across from such a powerhouse of an actress was exciting. Her presence and power radiated through the whole room. Many of her action scenes replayed in my mind when the interview started, yet she was cool and calm; she answered every question elegantly.
Midthunder’s journey of pursuing acting was entirely her own. She is the daughter of well-known film and television actor and stunt performer David Midthunder and Emmy-nominated casting director Angelique Midthunder. Regardless of her parents, who were immersed in the film industry since birth, Midthunder decided to pursue acting. She also made her own way into the industry and spent a year and a half auditioning for parts but didn’t get a single booking.
In time, Midthunder nabbed roles in TV shows and films, both Native- and non-Native-produced and -directed. She played Rosa Ortecho in The CW series “Roswell, New Mexico” and the Netflix-distributed film “The Ice Road,” where she starred opposite fellow action star Liam Neeson, to name a few. Midthunder also flexed her humor and quip as MissM8tri@rch in an episode of “Reservation Dogs,” where she was invited to improv. Midthunder doesn’t limit herself to certain parts or genres, preferring to play strong characters and ensuring she’ll bring her best work to the role.
Then, “Prey”–the latest film in the Predator franchise–debuted last Summer, which starred Midthunder as the lead role. “Prey” had a killer first weekend when it was released on Hulu. According to Disney, the film scored the number 1 premiere on Hulu to date, beating out all film and TV series debuts on the platform. It also created quite a buzz on social media and all of cyberspace. Midthunder took on red carpet premieres and press tours and even graced the cover of Teen Vogue’s New Hollywood issue earlier this year.
Taking on the most significant role of the latest installment of the Predator sci-fi action franchise, which debuted in theaters thirty-five years ago, was a milestone not only for Midthunder but for all of Indian Country. That was the first time many of us had seen a Native female lead as a hero. With “Prey,” Midthunder is changing the face of movies in her own way–that a Native woman can star in an action thriller playing on a mainstream platform such as Hulu while making space for other Native actors.
All heroes have a superpower, and Midthunder finds hers through Native fashion. A big fan of Native fashion and jewelry, it reminds and grounds her in her culture–present-day and what’s existed farther back.
Continue reading for our interview with Midthunder as she shares her journey into acting on her own, the responsibilities of being in “Prey,” and how much her Native people inspire and impact her.
KH: Thank you for joining us today! Let’s start off with an introduction. What do you do? Who are you?
Midthunder: I am an actress, a filmmaker, and also a person.
KH: How did you get into acting?
Midthunder: I moved to LA when I was 17. I was homeschooled during my last three years of high school. Then I left because I remember my mom begging me to stay home, but that was when I felt called to go. But ever since I was little, I would make up stories and do pretend movies and stuff like that because it was always something I was interested in. Both my parents work in the film industry, but they never told me what their jobs were or ever put that on me. They let me find it for myself. So it felt like my own thing. Once I knew about it and knew that I could do it, I didn’t want to do anything else.
KH: So, what is the first movie or TV show you saw that made you want to act?
Midthunder: It was more a TV show, honestly; Disney shows. I loved “Lizzie McGuire,” “Hannah Montana,” “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and “That’s So Raven.” I just loved those worlds. I would get so caught up in wanting to be one of the characters, or I would memorize full episodes of those shows, and I would say them over and over. It was “The Chronicles of Narnia” I went to see it with my grandma, and I was like eight or whatever. I remember we were leaving the theater, and I was talking to her and explaining how I felt like I was in the movie even though the movie had ended. I thought that was something everybody felt, and she said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I was like, “You know, you’re still in the movie like I have superpowers right now.” She was like, “No, I don’t know.” I was young, but that is a moment that I look back on now, and I go, “Oh yeah, I felt very affected by the medium of filmmaking.”
KH: Who are your parents, for anyone who might not know?
Midthunder: My mom’s name is Angelique Midthunder. She is most known for casting “Reservation Dogs.” She’s a casting director, and my dad is David Midthunder. He has been an actor since before I was born, and he’s done many things. He’s done a project called “Comanche Moon into the West.” He’s just now finishing up a movie called “The Thicket.”
KH: What did your parents say when you told them you wanted to be an actress?
Midthunder: I don’t remember ever telling them that I was going to act. It just became obvious at some point. I cycled through a lot of options for what I would do, and I had a lot of passions growing up. I was really into jiu-jitsu and MMA, and at one point, I wanted to be a makeup artist. Then, I wanted to be a nutritionist, and there were all these things that I enjoyed, and I could have done for my whole life. But at some point, it just became clear what I would do, and they never–especially considering that that’s where they come from–pushed me or even talked about it a lot. It was more like support and knowing that I was doing it for the right reasons, which is that I can’t live without it, and it is truly my passion. They supported me, wanting to live out my dream and do it in a way that can hopefully help my people, and they care that I remain a good person. So as long as I’m a decent, grounded human being, they don’t care what I do.
KH: So, what has your journey been like so far from getting into acting until now?
Midthunder: It feels like, in some ways, it’s been long, and in other ways, the time has just gone by quickly. It’s all just been one big thing. When I first moved to LA, I spent a year and a half auditioning every single day of the week. I didn’t book anything for a solid year and a half, which was hard. I always still had faith, and I just felt like I knew why I was doing it. Then I got on a show called ‘Legion,’ which was my first big job; I laid on the floor and cried, which changed my life. Every time I had that experience, I think of stepping on a new set or entering a new story or character. A part of me is wildly afraid of what I do. I get anxiety pretty bad before basically every job. But that’s always paid off so much more because it’s so rewarding, and I remember 10,000 times more why I’m doing it and because I love it. Especially most recently with ‘Prey’ as I act because I love it, but it’s the secret mission of my career to make as much space for Indigenous people and representation as possible. In so many ways, that’s not present, and I think we’re seen in such a one-dimensional monolith kind of way that it’s like, “Oh, there’s one Indigenous character, and then it’s a box to check.” Obviously, we’re actual people with personalities, and we’re all different and have different backgrounds. So whether I play an Indigenous-specific character or not, I am Indigenous, which automatically makes it that way. That’s kind of what I’m going for to show people, “Look, we can do and be anything, and we have way more to offer than you could even understand.”
KH: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on?
Midthunder: I don’t have a flat-out favorite. I have ones that I appreciate for different reasons. “Legion” for me was foundational because everybody was so good at what they were doing, and I was so young. I was 18 when we did the pilot and 19 when we did the first season. Everyone was so phenomenal at their jobs and what they were doing that I could not have asked for a better creative environment to set my foundation that way. Then I look at “Roswell.” I got to be home in New Mexico, where I grew up and work, and I got some great friendships out of it; that was a lovely experience. I look at “Prey,” and I just could not be more proud of that experience and that movie and what that has done and what that has done for me and what I’m seeing that movie do for Indigenous storytelling and the way that studios and Hollywood as a whole are finally paying attention to the fact that Indigenous voices are powerful and impactful and that Indigenous audiences are important. So there are a few that I appreciate for different reasons.
KH: So, speaking of “Prey,” that was the first time many of us have seen a Native female lead as this hero, right? Someone who led this fight despite the other characters beating her down. What responsibility came with that, and what were some of the challenges and kind of your experience with that?
Midthunder: I mean, the responsibility to me was the biggest thing I felt immediately. When I auditioned for the movie, I didn’t know it was a “Predator” movie. I knew it was a 1700s Native American movie that a big studio was doing. I was immediately suspicious because I was like, “What does the studio want with us? They never care about us.” It wasn’t until later that I found out what it was, and I immediately started crying. As soon as they told me this was a “Predator” movie, I burst into tears. I was so happy. I was terrified, because I didn’t know what that meant. At the time, obviously, I care more than anything about showing up and having things be accurate and respectful and something that we can all be proud of and get behind, but you don’t know. When it’s that early, you don’t know. So I just felt what that responsibility would be. It was exciting and scary because there are a lot of important things that need to be done in Indigenous communities with Indigenous issues. It’s not like making movies is the most important thing somebody could do. Still, it’s the same reason that the mascots matter; you look at how they have been proven to affect Indigenous people and children and their mentalities psychologically. That bridges the gap between how we feel proud to be represented and how people who don’t know or directly see us can then understand us as a people. Especially, “Prey” was set back in time, so that’s also our history.
We’ve never had our history represented in a way that shows all the nuance and the impressive parts. We’re innovative people, intelligent people; we’re complicated people. So rarely in a period piece do you see that because it’s always flat. We’ve been interesting forever. Then, having it be an Indigenous female hero was so huge. Every day that was the most important thing going to work for me. It was not that it was a “Predator” movie, or it was not that it was a studio movie or whatever. It was the only thing that I wanted to do was make something that other Natives could feel excited by, or that rez kids could watch and be like, “Wow, I want to be like that, or I want to do that, or I feel so happy that I can look at that,” because I didn’t have that kind of a movie when I was a kid—hopefully, opening the door to being the first of many of those feels like a big deal.
KH: So, speaking of all of the work that you’ve done, can you see any pattern in the choices you made and the parts you’re attracted to?
Midthunder: I have done a few action roles, and that’s because those are fun. I love doing action. I also love playing strong characters, but really for me, it’s about the quality of work. I plan to do this for my whole life, so I want to work with people I admire and people I respect, and I also want to work with good people. I don’t just want to do the same thing forever. I want to do all kinds of different characters and all kinds of different stories and then move into the space of helping other people tell those stories and whatever that is. I value variety.
KH: How do you stay connected to your culture?
Midthunder: I travel a lot for work, right? So it’s weird sometimes because some places feel more like home than others. Even just based on the environment or the land or the people. Wherever I go, it’s always prayer and medicine and those teachings. Everything you learn from your parents, ceremony, grandparents, and community, that stuff doesn’t go anywhere. It’s like your culture gives you these things, and you carry them with you, and nobody and nothing can take that away. I always have sweet grass with me, and my dad prays for me every morning. Then, remembering that no matter where I go, even if I’m physically alone, I always have people who are rooting for me and supporting me.
KH: Why is it essential for you to contribute to how Native women are seen or portrayed in film, media, and publishing? Why is that important to you, and how do you contribute?
Midthunder: There are many reasons it’s important to me. First of all, Native women have so much value. Native women are so powerful and so amazing and have so much to offer. When you create that space in one area, you create it in a lot of places. To me, visibility is one of the first steps in any progress. Indigenous women are powerful; Indigenous women are intelligent. Then that opens the space for business owners, designers, magazines, and stuff like that, which we have been doing already and doing much longer. That includes my job of storytelling and your job of storytelling. It’s time that people catch up to that. I want to contribute by being out there and being a good role model for the youth or making stories with good Indigenous characters. I have aspirations of developing and producing movies, creating space to hire Indigenous crew and other Indigenous actors and storytellers and all kinds of different departments, and supporting Indigenous businesses. Also to bring it home and do as much as I can for my rez and my community.
KH: How are you empowering Native women, and why is it important for you to do that through whatever it is you do, events that you do, or are a part of?
Midthunder: I think all women, especially Native women, are really powerful as individuals, but we’re even more powerful when we are together. Being out in all kinds of communities and meeting other Native women, we can help each other in ways we don’t even realize. It doesn’t matter if somebody is a doctor and I’m an actress and you have a magazine and somebody else has a business; it’s like we have power beyond what we understand and have always been the backbone of our societies. We’ve always been strong, we’ve always been powerful, and we carry that power still. When we bring that together, when we meet each other, when we travel around, and make connections, even just like I have today, just in one day you walk away, and it’s that support that I talked about earlier; there are women out there who understand what I’m going through. There are women out there who will support me on my journey, and I support them in theirs. I think opportunities can come in terms of helping one another, but just being open to that and supporting that because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to be a Native woman in all kinds of different spaces, and we face challenges that are specific to us. Having somebody to support and identify with is so valuable.
KH: What power do you gain from when you wear Native fashion or jewelry? What power does that give you? How does that make you feel?
Midthunder: It makes me feel so proud. It’s like my favorite thing when I’m out. I normally live in LA, which is not a place where the majority of people are Native. So when I’m wearing Native jewelry or Native designs or whatever and somebody randomly compliments me, it’s always so cool to be able to be like, “Oh, thanks, this is N7. The guy from my rez started that,” or, “this is Jamie Okuma, she’s a Native designer, she’s cool,” or, “these earrings, my auntie made them.” It’s a little piece of power that you carry with you everywhere. The fact that you’re not alone; you have so many people who are with you and behind you all the time. To me, it’s a reminder that it’s so much bigger. It’s all so much bigger than just being one person doing one thing. I’m pretty much always wearing Native earrings, and not only does it connect me to my present-day culture, but it also reminds me and grounds me in a way that’s something we’ve been doing for so long. That goes back so much farther than me. So it’s a comfort to me that I have something that has existed long before me and will continue to exist long after me. It feels like a superpower.
Photographer: Jody Lee
Photography Assistant: Daniel Joe
Designer: Sage Mountainflower
Jewelry: Tolpiyine Simbola
Makeup/Hair: Dr. Carmella Roybal
Makeup/Hair Assistant: Crystal Gamboa