Te Ata – Highlighting Chickasaw Nation’s Legendary Actress

Photo credit Te Ata Movie Facebook page
Photo credit Te Ata Movie Facebook page.



Reel Focus readers, one thing that you may not know about me is that history, not film, was my first love. Like an archeologist, I have a knack for exploring some of the most little known topics imaginable. So, it should come as no surprise that when I was looking for an interesting piece to present to you this week, I searched high and low for something that many people may not know about. I came across a website called Chickasaw TV and started crawling through it searching for something that could make an interesting blog article.

The Chickasaw Nation is a large community of Native Americans who reside primarily in Oklahoma. This nation of Native Americans belonged to one of the Five Civilized Tribes that used to reside east of the Mississippi river, spread across Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida before the Trail of Tears led them to their new home out west. As I continued to peruse their website, which is a great display of their culture, I came across an interesting person by the name of Te Ata Fisher. She was a Chickasaw actress and storyteller who used her acting skills to spread knowledge about the culture of American Indians, particularly the Chickasaw Nation. Coming across Te Ata’s profile was a great discovery, especially for our organization – Women in Film and Television Atlanta.

What I love about Te Ata is her tenacity. Even as a youth, she did not buy in to the stereotypes of what a woman should be in the community. She desired to do something out of the ordinary – especially for Native American women – and headed to Broadway to begin her career as an actress. Her desire to be a success didn’t make her a push-over, however. Te Ata adamantly refused to take on roles on Broadway that portrayed her or her race in a negative or stereotypical way. As a result of her refusing big Broadway roles that could have led her down the path of commercial success, Te Ata opted to go a different route. Instead, she used acting as an educational opportunity, performing as a one-woman show to enlighten audiences in New York and around the world about Native American Indian heritage.

Now, in honor of her legacy, a production is in development in order to tell about her rise to fame. Nathan Frankowski, is directing Te Ata which is currently in post-production. Paul Sirmons is the producer for Te Ata. Q’orianka Kilcher is the actress that will play as Te Ata. Some other big name actors and actresses that will appear in this film are Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, and Brigid Brannagh to name a few.

Te Ata was and still is a beacon to her people and to women around the world who fight against the odds and use their talent to improve the plight of other women.  This film will shine light on this little known actress whose name means “bearer of the morning.”


Nathan Frankowski
Q'orianka Kilcher
Q’orianka Kilcher




Graham Greene
Graham Greene
Gil Birmingham
Gil Birmingham





For more information and updates about this film, visit http://www.teatathemovie.com.

A special thanks to Tony Choate, Media Relations Director – The Chickasaw Nation.



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Women’s History Month – Women Breaking Through Barriers in Hollywood

Michelle Paradise
Photo courtesy of Michelle Paradise


Susan B. Anthony…Elizabeth Cady Stanton…Olympe de Gouges…Michelle Paradise?

Yes you read the list of names correctly. Michelle Paradise is a part of this legacy of strong women too listed above and reasonably so. Just as these other women broke down barriers and created opportunity for women that followed them, Michelle is doing something very similar for women entering Hollywood. Everyone in this industry knows that this is a difficult industry to break into whether you are a man or a woman but it’s always great to know that there are women who are paving a way for other women to follow. In celebration of Women’s History month, I invited actor and writer Michelle Paradise to Reel Focus blog to tell us more about a topic that will never get stale on Women in Film and Television Atlanta’s site: women successfully making it in Hollywood.

M.C:  Thank you Michelle for accepting my invitation. I first would like to begin by allowing you to tell everyone about your more popular roles that you have played either as an actor or writer in Hollywood. Ie. What would people know you for?

MP:  I’m probably best known for the series Exes & Ohs, which ran for two seasons on Logo in the U.S. and on Showcase/SuperChannel in Canada (it’s now available via iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix). It was based on a short film that I wrote and acted in, and I also wrote and acted in all the episodes of the series itself. It was an amazing project to be part of, and the fact that I got to wear so many hats – writing, acting, and producing – was a great experience all the way around. I’m currently writing on The Originals, which airs on the CW and it is one of the network’s biggest hits, so some folks might know me from that. Of course, if you look at my face and feel a sudden compulsion to brush with Crest toothpaste then it could also be that you recognize me from my commercial work (I’ve done dozens of commercials as an actor).

MC:  Tell us more about Michelle Paradise – the “outside of Hollywood limelight” woman? What do you do to “normalize” your life off set?

MP:  I’m not sure how to answer that, actually. My life is incredibly normal. I go to an office every day – but in my case, the office just happens to be a large room where the writers for our show gather to talk about the stories for the season or the particular episode we’re working on. It’s a normal workday with fairly typical hours and then I go home to my family, spend time with my daughter before she goes to bed, that sort of thing. The only time that we, as writers, go to set is when the episode we’ve written is being filmed. The Originals shoots near Atlanta, so we fly out there for our episode and help oversee the process of prep and shooting. On our show, we’ll typically write or co-write 3-4 episodes per season; other than those times, we’re in the Los Angeles office working with the other writers.

MC:  What was it like for you to break the glass ceiling in Hollywood and make your mark?

MP:  I’ve certainly had an unusual career path (not many people get their short film turned into a television series!) but I don’t feel I’ve broken any glass ceilings along the way. The fact that I’m a woman working in this business at all is thanks to the many talented and determined women that came before me. Writers like Frances Marion and Anita Loos, directors like Dorothy Arzner, comedians like Lucille Ball. They all paved the way many years ago but there are still plenty of women who are paving the way today… Kathryn Bigelow, Laverne Cox, Shonda Rhimes, and my own boss Julie Plec, just to name a few. The fact that these women have proven so successful makes it that much easier for those of us coming after them.

MC:  What advice do you have for aspiring actors/writers? What advice do you have for career changers who are thinking about quitting their current jobs and getting into Hollywood?

MP:  The best advice I can give is to hone your craft before leaving your current job. Acting and writing are both skills that must be learned (and the best actors and writers never stop learning, even after they’re doing it professionally). Take classes, attend workshops, study great performances and/or great scripts. If you want to be an actor, audition for local theater productions, student films, or indie films; take a scene study class or an improv class. Don’t rush to get an agent. Get the training you need so that when you do get an agent or an audition for a big project, you’re ready. If you want to be a writer, write. There are great books on screenwriting that can help you along the way (just do a google search and you’ll find them). Start watching films or television shows with a critical eye. Find a writing class, get involved in a writers’ group. Ask friends to read your work who will give you honest – if hard to hear – feedback. And again, don’t rush to get an agent. You might only get one shot at having them read your material so make sure your material is ready to be seen. Lastly, you’ll need to decide if you want to stay in the Atlanta area or move to Los Angeles or New York. As an actor, there are so many productions shooting in and around Atlanta that a trained actor can probably work fairly steadily – but keep in mind that the larger roles are almost always cast out of L.A. or N.Y. Whether or not to move is a question of balancing career goals with lifestyle choices, and only you will know what’s right for you. As a writer, it depends on whether you’re interested in film, theater, or television. For film or theater, it doesn’t matter as much where you live; for television, there are a handful of writers’ rooms in New York but the vast majority of them are in Los Angeles. It’s also worth noting that acting and writing are both highly competitive industries. The harsh reality is that most actors and writers in Hollywood are out of work at any given time, so if you want to change careers – and possibly make a move – I’d strongly suggest having a solid job opportunity before doing so.



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Top Women in Power – Hollywood Edition

Shonda Rhimes. Bonnie Hammer. Lena Dunham. Donna Langley. Hannah Minghella.

Who are they? They made the list. The coveted list from The Hollywood Reporter (THR) that ranks the top 100 women of power in entertainment. 

The New York Times article sums it up as a campaign that kicks off in the summer and runs through to the end when the list is release during a breakfast in December. Jamie Min, the chief creative officer of the Power 100 list, shared that the process and encounters are “surreal”.

In an industry still dominated by men, THR takes time to recognize the capital that women do bring to Hollywood. It’s a competitive process and can be a challenging pill to swallow if a team feels their women deserves a higher ranking.

In the words of James Brown, “it’s a man’s world” until you start ranking women. Ask Janie and Matthew.

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Jasmine Guy’s Take On The World

It’s a Thursday night during the late 1980’s to early 1990’s-something. There were only three major networks – CBS, NBC, and CBS with FOX slowing making it’s way on the scene. However, NBC had the 8 o’clock hour on lock with an hour of comedy designed to entertain and educate.

The “Cosby Hour” was time for family time with the Huxtables via The Cosby Show and class time on the campus of Hillman College via A Different World. Actress/director, Jasmine Guy, portrayed Whitley Gilbert on A Different World. The show came during a “wave” of work that included School Daze, Harlem Knights and Queen. These roles, more importantly her presence on the weekly show A Different World would establish her as a talented force on the acting scene. She reflects on the power of the “Cosby Hour”. “I feel like we impacted the country in way that it’s harder to do now because of the kind of power you can have with just three networks.” She adds, “The whole country was watching the show at the same time because we weren’t DVRing our shows.”

So the time to watch a show was the time it actually came on television. A platform of that magnitude produced a legion of young people who now saw higher education in a different way. So, while Hillman was a fictitious institution of higher learning, Guy feels one of the great things about show is it showcased some real experiences and opportunities for America to see that Black was more than one thing. “I loved that the show we had a diversity of black people. We weren’t all from the same neighborhoods, we didn’t look the same, we had different cultural principles and ways of living,” Guy shares. “I was able to go as far as I was with Whitney because of the diversity. It wasn’t like Whitley was representing the whole race. I knew that I could say politically incorrect things because Freddy was going to say the right thing or Dwayne was going to get Whitley.”

The diversity allowed for a variety in voice. There was going to be someone on the show to have the right voice, which deepened the message and connectivity of the characters. Things that Guy attributes to the genius of Bill Cosby in creating a show like A Different World. “He said I’m going to do a spin-off and put it on an HBCU campus. In doing that he made a huge statement, about education about access, about the value of black colleges, and the value of going to college.”

As the theme song states, “Here’s a chance to make it, If we focus on our goals.” The goal was to create a show that would positively impact a nation and that’s exactly what happened. Even almost three decades later, A Different World’s influences can be seen and heard.

Stay tuned for more with Jasmine Guy and what’s happening in her world post-A Different World.


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Nina Holiday – Cas Sigers & Terri J. Vaughn

A recommendation to watch Searching for Debra Winger sparked the making of Angels Can’t Help but Laugh and the creation of Nina Holiday, a full service production company co-founded by actress, Terri J. Vaughn, and writer, Cas Sigers.

“I watched the movie [Searching for Debra Winger] and I loved it. I could completely relate to it. It was a bunch of actresses talking about their experiences and being in the industry,” Vaughn shared.  “But they were all white except for Whoopi Goldberg. I was like where are we. I told Cas and she was like, well, let’s make our own.” Angels was their first project together and featured Vaughn interviewing 25 African American actresses about their experiences in the industry.

“Angels gave us that confidence to move forward and say – we’re going to start a production company,” shared Sigers.

The journey since that time has been full of fun and learning lessons for the ladies of Nina Holiday. One lesson that Terri shared was, “…thinking that if we have a GREAT idea and it’s written really well plus knowing my relationships from my time in the business and being on these TV shows, we’ll get this stuff made. Yeah right!”

The process of getting a show done was more complicated than either Sigers or Vaughn realized. It was very much political. “We learned the politics and that creativity and what people like is a small portion of what’s gets a show aired,” Sigers explained. “What we have learned is the business. We started off as straight creative people with great ideas and wanting to tell a great story. In producing, everything is formulaic and isn’t based on what we like or what we would like to see.”

As Nina Holiday is mastering the formula, they are seeing an increase in the success rate of what is getting aired is greater than it use to be. Some of their clients include BET Networks, Centric, Aspire, Sony Music, and GMC Uplifting Entertainment.  

Their latest project, Girlfriend’s Getaway, is combination of that formula and fighting for their vision. “There were a few things they wanted to change [in Girlfriend’s Getaway] and we had to stand our ground,” Vaughn explained. “The reason why we wrote this movie was for this age group and this particular story.” Sigers added, “We love broad comedies. So, let’s make a silly broad comedy about silly stuff.”

In addition, Girlfriend’s Getaway, allowed Nina Holiday to see a dream come to fruition. They were able to work with people they love on a stress free set. Vaughn said it best, “It is amazing and the best hands down the best experience I’ve ever had filming a project.”

Per their company website, Nina Holiday is “… named from two iconic African-American women in the history of entertainment, Nina Simone, noted activist and singer, and Billie Holiday, jazz legend. Each of these women broke barriers and stereotypes in order to become true artists and live their dream. They didn’t settle, they persevered and in spite of controversy they still pushed towards perfecting their craft.”

Sigers and Vaughn are paving their own way standing firm in their faith, believing in the dream, and working to change the images of African American girls and women on the small and big screen.

Their latest project is the development of a series for Bounce TV slated for 2015 debut.

Females Successfully Playing the Hollywood Game – Spotlight on Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola

Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor

Bling Ring ● Marie Antoinette

Somewhere ● Lost in Translation

If you connect the dots, it will lead you to a surprising conclusion and that conclusion is that a man did not write, direct, or produce these films. These phenomenal films were actually written, directed, and produced by Sofia Coppola, one of the most accomplished women in Hollywood.

There are millions of writers around the world and millions of outlets for writers; but the crème de la crème of the writing world, most would agree, is writing for Hollywood. It is by far the most competitive and one of the best avenues for successful writers to earn a lot of money for one single piece of work, if lucky. So, it comes as no surprise that there are not many successful women writers in this world. Likewise, there are not a lot of producers or directors who are women, either.

Sofia Coppola is one of those anomalies that has defied the odds and has shattered the glass ceiling to become a highly accomplished writer, producer, and director in the world of Hollywood. This blog will analyze her film, Lost in Translation, to determine how we as women can follow in her footsteps to create successful films.

Lost in Translation (2003) is a film starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as two love interest who remain just that – love interests. Both of them are married but disinterested in their marriage for one reason or another. The yearning between the two is what propels the storyline forward. This very simple story earned this film an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2003; a Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture; and several other awards and nominations. It also grossed about $120 million with only a budget of $4 million making it a phenomenal success.

So why was a film as simple as this such a remarkable blockbuster? Let’s look at some critical clues that I think made this film work and can also be useful advice for us women seeking success in this industry.

Clue # 1 – It is a romantic comedy.

I believe that anytime you can effectively appeal to the human emotion of happiness through laughter or love through romance, a film is destined to be a blockbuster. In this case, this film combines both.

Clue #2 – It has cute, romantic flirtation that never gets raunchy.

Obviously sex sells so most people use this as a way to sell products, including films. Sofia never opted for sex as a sales technique in the film. Instead she kept the sexual tension as the focus without actually having the lead characters give in to their desire. Hence you have a film that remains innocent with only a hint of sexuality.

Clue #3 – There is great cinematography.

I must say that the cinematography was spot on. The great thing about the cinematography is that it mirrors the tension in the film. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) are both married to someone else which creates a major part of the tension; but another part of the tension is their age difference – he being substantially older than she is. The cinematography mimics this tension in that some scenes we see city life in Tokyo and in other scenes we see the beautiful green landscapes of Japan. Also, in some scenes we see wild behavior and drinking and in other scenes we see Buddhist monks worshiping.

Clue #4 – It’s focused on the two leading actors’ dilemma, not subplots.

Most films have a tendency to start with the main actors and delve into the other subplots of supporting actors and actresses. In this film, Sofia keeps the focus entirely on the two main actors to avoid confusion of the plot. She could have delved into the story behind Charlotte’s husband’s secret life which seemed to be full of scandal and cheating but she did not. She could have even developed more around Bob’s tension between his wife and their marriage that was getting stale but she did not. Instead she opted to hint at the fact that both of these characters’ significant others were losing interest in them; hence, this was the key driving force that sparked Charlotte and Bob’s interest in each other. Once these two express an interest in each other, everything in the plot wraps around their little coy love affair.

So based on all of these clues from analyzing Sofia Coppola’s film, what can we discern about how to successfully play this man’s game?

Add humor to our storyline; it’s the best medicine.
Avoid outright immodesty. Just because we are playing a man’s game doesn’t mean we can do what men do.
Focus on the beauty of film and what the human eye absorbs, not just the dialogue between characters.
Don’t get lost in subplot after subplot; focus.

Stay tuned for more articles in which I will discover keys to success based on analyzing the works of other successful women in Hollywood.


Photo of Sofia Coppola retrieved on August 19, 2014 from http://bit.ly/1yXbz9M