As a kid, Wayne Baker's favourite weekend treat was to head into downtown Vancouver to watch the matinées.
He loved the glitz and excitement of the movies; the buzz before they started and eating popcorn among the crowd with his aunt. But sitting through hours of Hollywood razzle-dazzle, Baker rarely saw his people on the big screen. When First Nations did appear, their characters were laughable.
“They were all fake, non-native people dressed up. When I was little, I was sort of embarrassed to see it,” the Squamish Nation member recalled.
Today, Baker's in front of the camera. Although one of the world's largest online movie industry resources, Internet Movie Database (IMDb), only lists 46 First Nations actors, but the 17-year acting veteran said he's seen First Nations character options grow in diversity. The Squamish resident is also landing non-native roles, such as the part of a detective in Da Vinci's Inquest.
“I think there's been progress,” he said. “Now I am seeing more TV shows bring in more native content. The talent is a lot better now, too.”
Acting in historical films comes with challenges. In 2007, Baker landed a supporting lead in the HBO film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The production followed the last battle of the American Indian Wars, a massacre at Wounded Knee Creek in which an estimated 300 Lakota were killed.
The set looked so realistic that it felt like travelling back in time, Baker said. The movie became very personal as Baker stood among people whose relatives had lived through the bloody event. The show later received 17 Emmy nominations, winning six of them.
“It was very difficult to act out the events for a lot of the Lakota people,” he said.
Baker's latest role is in the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network's (APTN) three-year series Blackstone. Baker plays Chief Joe, a character trying to set up a legitimate home manufacturing business in a world full of corruption. The Alberta-shot drama follows the lives of people in the Blackstone First Nation. Many of the situations don't fall too far from the apple tree, Baker said.
“It is like what has really gone on in a lot of reserves across Canada,” he said. “It will be a very good eye opener for the non-native community because there is a lot of truth to it.”
After completing three episodes, Baker is back in Squamish. Down the road he hopes to land an ongoing role in a television series.
“Acting is my passion,” he said.
Blackstone premiered on Wednesday, Sept. 25. It airs every Wednesdays on APTN at 9 p.m. or can be watched online at http://aptn.ca/pages/blackstone/