Q’orianka Kilcher, who held her own with Christian Bale and Colin Farrell in The New World, assumes the title role in this admiring, respectful biopic (Kilcher was 15 when she played Pocahontas in the Terrence Malick film). Mary Thompson, her name at the outset, is a theatrically-inclined young Chickasaw woman in pre-statehood Oklahoma who plans to get an education and make something of herself. In 1915, she goes off to college, where she feels like an outcast until she meets a teacher (an excellent Cindy Pickett) who encourages her talents. After graduation, she embarks on a tour where she shares tribal stories with regional audiences.
Her father (Hell and High Water's Gil Birmingham) suggests her handle, Te Ata, which means "Bearer of the Morning." It takes a while, but in New York, she finds work on Broadway and love with future husband Clyde Fisher (Mackenzie Astin with a shock of white hair), a woke professor (their courtship is very sweet). Te Ata would go on to perform for luminaries like Franklin Roosevelt and King George VI. It's a nice story, and Kilcher is a vibrant presence, but the film would work better in a classroom than in a theater. From the over-lit scenes to the bad wigs bedeviling Birmingham and Graham Greene (as the governor of the Chickasaw Nation), Te Ata is a missed opportunity as a work of cinema, but a worthy addition to the historical record.
See Movie Times for more information about Te Ata.