1 of 5 | Aminah Nieves attends the premiere of Paramount+'s western drama TV series "1923" at Hollywood American Legion Post 43 in Los Angeles in 2022. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- V/H/S/99 actress Aminah Nieves and Dead Ringers alum Jennifer Ehle say the characters they play in the Paramount+ western drama, 1923, depict two vastly different American experiences for Native and immigrant women at the beginning of the 20th century.
"Teonna is a 16-year-old, young Crow woman forcibly living in a governmental assimilation school in Montana," Nieves told UPI in a recent Zoom interview before the Screen Actors Guild strike last month.
Most of Nieves' scenes in Season 1 of the Yellowstone prequel -- available on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday -- are with Ehle.
"I'm Sister Mary, an Irish nun who has been in the United States probably for about 15 years and who has a mandate to assimilate her students and remove their cultural identity," Ehle said.
Neither Teonna nor Sister Mary have many options.
While Teonna could run away or keep her head down and comply until it was time to graduate, she chooses instead to stand up for herself and fight injustice at the school.
Her nemesis, Sister Mary, also is a product of her time and believes she is helping those in her care by disciplining them, even though she actually is psychologically and physically abusing the children.
"She has so little respect for the culture that these children come from," Ehle said.
"She thinks she is doing the right thing in saving their souls and making them what she perceives to be, hopefully, useful members of society," Ehle added. "It's not like she's doing it out of the goodness of her heart. It's so complicated and so hard to unpick."
Sister Mary also has to answer to her supervisor, the ruthless Father Renaud (Sebastian Roche).
"She, of course, is living in an abusive environment, as well," Ehle said.
Because some of the scenes between the characters were so harrowing, the two actresses worked hard to make each other feel safe.
"The first time I met Jennifer, it was instant. I think we really needed to see one another and love one another and, in that moment, know that we will protect each other moving forward," Nieves said.
"The first hug was minutes long," she added. "We were thanking each other for being here."
Even though her character was the aggressor, Ehle said she appreciated knowing she had Nieves' permission to do her job and that her co-star would not blame her for Sister Mary's cruelty.
"I was able to trust Aminah to let me do this without judging, to not hold it against me. It's hard because it is such recent history," Ehle said.
"We are walking in the footsteps of people who actually had this dynamic and actually did this in real life, not that long ago."
1923 also focuses on members of the Dutton family -- ranchers led by Jacob (Harrison Ford) and Cara (Helen Mirren) -- as they endure a particularly difficult year when their cattle didn't have enough to eat, the economy was collapsing, technology was advancing and mining titan Donald Whitfield (Timothy Dalton) and his minions wanted to run the clan off their property by any means possible.
Created by Taylor Sheridan, the show has been renewed for Season 2. However the ongoing SAG and Writers Guild of America strikes have halted most film and television productions in the United States.
Nieves said she hopes viewers of 1923, Yellowstone and their prequel 1883 will learn a bit of U.S. history of which they might not have been aware, and that might help them understand how the nation got to where it is today.
"What Taylor is doing with 1923 -- with all of his shows -- is ... put indigenous representation inside of them," she said.
"You can't run away from it. You can't skip through the show. We're in there, and it is a reference point to acknowledge that we are all a little bit ignorant to some things. That's OK, but now it's time for us to relearn."
The DVD and Blu-ray includes a featurette called "I Am the Land: Teonna Rainwater," in which Nieves described herself as an ethnobotanist and storyteller who feels honored to be part of a large-scale project she sees as an accurate representation of her people and how they have been treated.
"It's intense," she said. "It's not a made-up story. It is the truth and it's not a fun one to look at head on, but you have to and we have to live with it."
Mo Brings Plenty, the director of Indian affairs on Sheridan's shows, and Native language consultant Birdie Real Bird were with Nieves every day on the set of 1923.
"They'd pray and do ceremonies before [filming] and they are a real integral part for myself, for Leenah Robinson, who plays Baapuxti, and everyone else who's involved in Teonna's world," she said.
"It's not one story. It's a collective story," she added. "It's a story that deserves to be heard."