LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Having battled mighty heroes across time and space, the invisible extraterrestrial hunters of the Predator films have a new – or rather, old – foe in an 18th-Century female Comanche warrior.
Prequel film Prey is perhaps the most unlikely direction yet for the Predator franchise, which first hit screens with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1987 action classic.
Since then, the bloodthirsty trophy-hunting creatures have slaughtered humans in Central American rainforests, Los Angeles and faraway planets, even battling the monsters of the Alien franchise in two crossover films.
The latest installment is set centuries earlier, landing its predator in 1719 North America, where it takes up the trail of Comanche hunters, French fur-trappers and buffalo.
Director Dan Trachtenberg told a packed preview screening at Comic-Con in San Diego last month he had been inspired to make the film because “Native American and Comanche specifically have often been relegated to playing the sidekick or the villain, and never the hero”.
During the 19th Century, Comanches clashed with Europeans and other Native American peoples across the Southern Plains of the modern-day United States, earning a reputation for fearsome military prowess.
Hollywood has mostly portrayed them as brutal enemies, such as in John Ford’s classic Western The Searchers.
In the new film, Amber Midthunder plays the heroine Naru, a young woman who must battle sexism within her own tribe as well as the film’s villain.
Disney-owned 20th-Century Studios’ decision “to get behind a movie like this that has not just a female action hero, but an Indigenous female action hero… that’s something that I don’t recall seeing, maybe possibly ever”, she said.
The film’s setting is “a real time in history for us, that is not that long ago, (when) I had ancestors walking around doing cool stuff, you know?”
While Prey was shot in English, French and Comanche, its Native American actors later re-recorded their lines so that the whole movie can be played in Comanche – a first for a major studio film, according to producer Jhane Myers, who is herself Comanche.
For Midthunder, “what I really honestly thought about every day I came to work, was not wanting to let down Comanche people first and foremost, but specifically Indigenous people”.
“And that if it did work, and we did pull it off, then how great that would be for us – to have something where we feel like we can look at a movie and feel represented and reflected in a way that you’re proud of,” she said.
“Because we don’t often get that.”