In ‘Spirit Rangers,’ Elders Playing Elders

The pioneering Native actors Wes Studi and Tantoo Cardinal star as the Sun and Moon in this animated Netflix show about an Indigenous family.

Send any friend a story

As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

By Kelly Boutsalis

Two Native American acting legends, Wes Studi and Tantoo Cardinal, have shared a dozen film sets since 1990, beginning with “Dances with Wolves,” but never the same scene. It took “Spirit Rangers,” a children’s Netflix show overflowing with Indigenous talent, to pair the two onscreen at the same time, albeit in animated form.

The preschool series, which premiered on Indigenous Peoples Day, Oct. 10, features Studi as the Sun and Cardinal as the Moon. (They appear together in an episode about an eclipse.)

“Spirit Rangers” has an all-Native American writers’ room, led by the first-time showrunner Karissa Valencia, who is half-Chumash and half-Mexican, and is executive produced by Chris Nee, the creator of “Doc McStuffins.”

Each episode opens in a fictional California national park, where the Skycedar family live with their three children, Kodi, Summer and Eddie, voiced by the newcomers Wacinyeya Iwasaka Yracheta, Isis Celilo Rogers and Talon Proc Alford, respectively.

The Skycedar kids have the secret ability to tap into the spirit world, where they transform via their spinning beaded medallions into a bear, a hawk and a turtle, and story lines introduce them to animals from all over the world. Grounding the series as the sibling elders Sun and Moon, Studi and Cardinal voice “the spirits that are watching over the park,” Valencia said.

“How beautiful is that?” she said, explaining that the actors are “also our elders in the community, and the people who have created the path for people like us to keep coming.”

Studi, who is Cherokee and based in Santa Fe, has played mostly dramatic roles over his 30-year career in films like “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Avatar” and “Heat.” Cardinal, who is Métis-Cree and based in Los Angeles, has appeared in more than 120 film and television series, including “Wind River,” “Legends of the Fall” and “Westworld,” over her 48-year career.

In addition to “Spirit Rangers,” Cardinal can also be heard in Netflix’s new animated series “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale” and the film “Wendell & Wild.” She will also be in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Studi stars in “A Love Song,” currently making the film festival rounds, and also appears in FX’s “Reservation Dogs” series as the eccentric artist Bucky.

In a joint video interview, Studi and Cardinal discussed the inroads Indigenous people are making in Hollywood and what “Spirit Rangers” means to them. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Source: Read Full Article