Gale Anne Hurd Talks Mankiller, The Walking Dead and Its Companion Series

Gale Anne Hurd, producer of The Walking Dead, The Terminator and more, is working on her third [...]


Gale Anne Hurd, producer of The Walking DeadThe Terminator and more, is working on her third documentary film about Native Americans, this time titled Mankiller.

Seeking partial funding through Kickstarter, the film is about Wilma Mankiller, a woman who was three times elected the chief of the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest Native American nations within the U.S.

There isn't money in documentary features, for the most part -- it's about getting out stories that need to be told, much like the nightly news used to be back before it started becoming a profit center for networks -- and the previous two documentaries she made on Native American culture were acclaimed, but ultimately cost more money than they made, so Kickstarter seemed like an obvious opportunity for those who support the film to do so with more than just an $8 ticket price and to help ease the process of getting Mankiller made.

Hurd spoke with about the project, her hopes for bringing the story to a wider audience, and the ways that you can trace similar narratives through everything she's done, from The Terminator and Aliens to The Walking Dead and the forthcoming companion series planned to start this summer.

What's your elevator pitch for the project?

I am a huge supporter of Native Americans and Native American culture, and considering they were the original inhabitants of our land, I think they're the most underrepresented in terms of our history books and what we know about their culture.

So this is the story of one of the most prominent, relatively contemporary Native American women: a woman named Wilma Mankiller, who passed away a couple of years ago. But I would bet that most people do not know that there was actually a head of state within our nation who was an elected woman. WM was elected chief of the Cherokee Tribe, which is a sovereign nation inside the United States, three times. I think it's really important to tell her story.

Gale Anne Hurd

This is a project that I'm surprised hasn't had a mainstream feature film. Is there a reason you thought a documentary would work better?

I think you want to tell the true story before you start fictionalizing anything, and most importantly I think we want to honor her legacy. There's also a narrative film about her called The Cherokee Word for Water, so that ground has been covered.

I think one of the interesting things about Native American history is that they are sovereign nations but integrate fairly seamlessly into American culture to such an extent that they don't get treated like they're sovereign. It's just "those people over there."

I think there are a number of things. The first is, there's that famous saying that history is written by the victors, so I think that Native American have been marginalized in this country. It was actually the stated intent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the federal government to assimilate all Native American so that their culture would disappear. Luckily, the tide has shifted and many Native American tribes want to not only preserve their culture, but encourage their members to learn and speak their native languages.

The first two Native American documentaries that I've made dealt with how important their languages have been in the United States. The first was about the Navajo who served as codetalkers in World War II. The second, after doing that documentary, Valerie Red Horse -- who produces with me and directs -- and I were contacted by the Choctaw, because the Choctaw had created a code that we didn't even know about during World War I at the same time that the United States is trying to essentially wipe out their culture.

I think a lot of these problems need to be brought to everyone's attention and I think we need to honor just how important Native Americans have been.

One thing that you see is that anything that's even remotely critical of the United States is often immediately dismissed as -- 

--Propaganda, yeah. We're just trying to tell the true story and in this case, it's about one very heroic woman from humble origins who found greater success among her people, which are of course the first Americans, than any other woman of any ethnic origin in the history of the United States.

If you go back and look at my filmography, and obviously The Walking Dead as well, you'll see a history of telling stories about ordinary women who are faced with extraordinary challenges and overcome them, often saving the world in the process. Whether it's Sarah Connor from Terminator or Ellen Ripley from Aliens, Aeon Flux or Carol, Michonne, Sasha, Maggie, you name it from The Walking Dead.


This is very contemporary in comics culture -- both superheroes and in more independent books like The Walking Dead, we're seeing more people speaking to the women who are reading comics and haven't been well-served in the past. I think The Walking Dead is interesting because the TV show goes even further than the comic in that regard.

You know, everyone is on the same page with the show and we also have such fantastic actors. When you think about Melissa McBride, I think she's one of the most fascinating characters, Carol, on the show. Where she started to where she is now, I think is the most remarkable journey of any character in the series. And especially what she's doing now in Alexandria, when you think about it.

You know, a few months ago I spoke with Melissa, and I said, basically, that women over forty in Hollywood...that's a remarkable role. It's just not the kind of role that comes around. And the fans love her so much that they all thought I was attacking Melissa or calling her old. She has connected with the audience in a really special way.

[Laughs] Yeah. And that's the case with Wilma Mankiller. It's almost a story like Carol's in terms of someone who found it within themselves to lead her people, the way that Carol leads and protects her people. That's what Wilma was able to do.

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Is Kim Dickens in the spinoff going to have that similar sensibility?

We can't discuss the characters directly, I'm sorry. But what can I say? Kim Dickens I think is one of the finest actors in America, and I can assure you that her journey will be just as compelling as she is.

What is the biggest single thing you want people to take away from this project? What's the one thing you really think they need to know?

I'd go back to the fact that we really, actually have had a woman leading a nation within the United States. I know that Hillary Clinton is probably going to be running for President, but before her, there was Wilma Mankiller and I think it's so surprising that fantastic fictional characters like Michonne and Carol are known worldwide, not just in the United States, and yet a true leader like Wilma Mankiller isn't. That's why people need to check her out -- because her story is just as remarkable as any of the characters' stories on The Walking Dead.