Jessica Chastain, unsurprisingly, plays a revolutionary figure from history who has largely gone unheralded in the new movie Woman Walks Ahead. Specifically, she plays Catherine Weldon, an 1890s painter who travels from her home in New York City to the frontier of Dakota to capture the portrait of the great Lakota chief Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes).
Sitting Bull is, of course, a person of interest to the United States government who they have had a hard time finding. His leadership is causing the government problems as it seeks to keep expanding the country westward, displacing or murdering native people as it does so. Weldon’s journey gets the attention of a military agent (Sam Rockwell) who adds a complication to the painter’s artistic and altruistic mission.
“Defy your times,” the copy used on the poster, makes it clear from the outset that the story is about breaking out of society’s expectations for who you are and what you should be doing. The image shows Catherine meeting Sitting Bull, both of them sitting on horseback against an evening prairie sky.
Catherine is traveling west as the trailer opens, something Groves is surprised at given women on their own at this time was somewhat unusual. She’s intent on painting a portrait of Sitting Bull, something that doesn’t sit well with some locals. When she finds him and begins her work the two bond over visions and desires for lives of significance. He, of course, also just doesn’t want to be killed like other chiefs. Groves has tracked her on behalf of the army, who is out to find Sitting Bull and put an end to him and his people. Eventually everything converges in a bloody and violent ending.
It’s no surprise that Chastain looks wonderful as a woman looking to elevate her own status in the world but who also doesn’t want to get involved in the politics of what’s happening around her. That doesn’t mean she’s indifferent to Sitting Bull’s cause. In fact it’s clear she sympathizes with his desire to live in peace and freedom. But she also won’t be used as a pawn by Groves or anyone else.
Online and Social
The official website A24 established only has the trailer and a story synopsis. There’s actually a bit more information, including the poster and cast/crew lists, on the studio’s page for the movie. The movie has received limited support on the studio’s brand social media channels because it’s been prioritizing promotions for other, buzzier titles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing I’ve seen, though the fact it’s available via VOD means there may be some targeted online advertising being done.
Media and Publicity
A first-look still was released in advance of the movie’s debut screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, a screening that earned decent praise, particularly for Chastain’s performance. The movie was eventually picked up by A24 and DirecTV. It later screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, it’s U.S. debut.
The lead up to the movie included features like this that profiled Chastain as both an actress and advocate, particularly within the #MeToo movement. There was also a profile of Michael Greyeyes that allowed the actor to talk about the kinds of roles he takes on and how he hopes those roles help expand understanding of indigenous people.
Chastain also did some media appearances to talk about the movie and tell the usual funny stories.
As has been the case with all too many movies recently, the story here is still unfortunately timely. While it isn’t as overtly brutal as what was done to Native Americans, we still see governments engaging in gentrification efforts all the time, seeking to push out the current population of a neighborhood so Walmart can build a super center or as a way to convince Amazon to build their next headquarters there. Not just that, but amidst the resurgence of white nationalist rhetoric in the U.S., it’s worth remembering who was really here first.
All that aside, it’s a solid drama that’s being sold here. Chastain is positioned as the big draw, but Greyeyes has been a focal point of the press, which is good to see. It’s likely not going to break any records, but could reward those who seek it out.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
The movie is one of several recent projects that have brought more women into the Western genre.
Another feature with star Michael Greyeyes where he once again talks about the kinds of Native American character roles he’s offered and how he sees this movie as being a great example of specific representation of a Native culture, not just something vague.
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