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Thunderheart (1992) Poster

(1992)

Trivia

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The movie is actually a thinly veiled account of real events that occurred on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation during the early to mid-Seventies. Exploration for Uranium, disease from irradiated water, the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the "Traditional" Natives fight against the Tribal government "Guardians Of the Oglala Nation (GOON's), and the FBI's assistance to the "Goons" by providing weaponry and other assistance are some of the things that are referred to in the movie that were true and documented by Writer/Director Michael Apted when he was a regular visitor to the Reservation during that time.
John Trudell (Jimmy Looks Twice) really did serve in Vietnam and was acting chairman of A.I.M. From 1973 to 1979.
Based on a true story, documented as Incident at Oglala (1992), which was also directed by Michael Apted.
During the early to mid-Seventies, there were fifty-seven unsolved murders on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation due to the fighting between the "Traditionals" and Tribal government sanctioned "goons". This made the Village of Pine Ridge (Pop. 1100) the "Murder Capitol of the Nation" with the highest number of violent death per capita in the United States.
The video clip which William Dawes shows Ray Levoi in the beginning of the film is actual footage of Native American activists rioting in Custer, South Dakota. The activists were protesting the change from a white man's charges from murder to second degree manslaughter, in the death of a Native American in Custer. They scuffled with the South Dakota Highway Patrol, set fire to the courthouse, and incurred property damage.
In the movie, Val Kilmer plays a character who is 1/4th Sioux. In real life, he is 1/4th Cherokee.
The movie contains several references to the original Wounded Knee incident, which took place on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1890. For instance, the character William Dawes shares a surname with Senator Henry Dawes, of Dawes Act notoriety. The Dawes Act's goal was to assimilate American Indians into white society. Additionally, Frank Coutelle refers to Walter Crow Horse as "Crowfoot". Crowfoot was the name of the first of Sitting Bull's sons to be shot and killed at the original Wounded Knee massacre.
Robert De Niro who produced this film later worked with Val Kilmer on Heat (1995).
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Filming was done with the support of the Oglala Sioux people, who trusted Michael Apted and John Fusco to express their story.
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Two hundred and fifty Native Americans worked as extras on the movie.
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A fictitious Sal Mineo movie, "Arrows on the Prairie" is mentioned. Although the movie is fictional, Mineo did star as a young Sioux warrior in Tonka (1958) and later as a Cheyenne warrior in Cheyenne Autumn (1964).
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Screenwriter John Fusco lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation for five years researching the script. There, he met Frank Fools Crow, a tribal elder who was the inspiration for Grandpa Sam Reaches.
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Ted Thin Elk, who played an honoured Lakota medicine man, is a Lakota elder himself.
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Maggie is based on activist Anna Mae Aquash, who was at one point the highest ranking woman in AIM. She was murdered in 1975.
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The gravestone is a replica of the real one, with "Thunderheart" replacing the name "Swift Bird."
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Filming took place over ten weeks, during which the cast endured temperatures over 100 °F.
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Screenwriter John Fusco became near-fluent in the Lakota language while living at Pine Ridge.
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ARM is based on the American Indian Movement (AIM), a group that fights for Native American rights. The film is inspired by conflicts between AIM and the FBI in the '70s.
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A paperback novel published by HarperCollins titled Thunderheart based on John Fusco's screenplay, was released on May 28, 1992. The book dramatises the fictionalised events of the Wounded Knee Incident, as depicted in the film. It expands on the ideas of how an FBI agent's assignment to uncover the truth behind violence on an Indian reservation leads to a wide-range conspiracy.
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Kurt Russell, Tommy Lee Jones, Patrick Swayze, Michael Keaton, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, and Mel Gibson were considered to play Ray Levoi.
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Michael Apted offered Marlon Brando the role of Frank "Cooch" Coutelle.
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Jack Milton is based on Dick Wilson, the tribal chairman of the Pine Ridge Reservation from 1972-'76. Traditionalists tried to impeach Wilson in '73.
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John Trudell, who played an Indian activist suspected of murder in the film inspired by the real life events surrounding Leonard Peltier, is in fact an Indian activist, as well as a poet and singer.
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This is the first role for Sheila Tousey.
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Val Kilmer and Sam Shepard's next movie together was Blind Horizon (2003).
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Tom Cruise was suggested for the role of Ray Levoi.
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Richard Gere was offered the role of Ray Levoi, but he was busy with Final Analysis (1992).
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The Squeeze (1977) was the first ever cinema thriller movie directed by British director Michael Apted. Apted would later go on to direct several other thrillers such as Enigma (2001), Enough (2002), Blink (1993), Thunderheart (1992), Gorky Park (1983), Class Action (1991), Extreme Measures (1996) and The World Is Not Enough (1999).
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This is the second film James Horner composed that Val Kilmer appeared in. The first was Willow (1988).
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The 55th biggest grossing film of 1992.
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Graham Green's character Walter makes a joke about Ray's partner (Sam Shepard) being 007. Michael Apted, the director of the film, would later go on to direct The World is Not Enough (1999).
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Tommy Lee Jones, Scott Glenn, Brian cox, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, dennis hopper, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino were considered to play Frank Coutelle.
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Spoilers 

The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

The character of Maggie Eagle Bear was likely based on AIM activist Anna Mae Aquash, who was found murdered along Highway 73 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in February 1975. Aquash had been a schoolteacher in an Indian school in Minneapolis - alluded to in the character's comment that she is from Minneapolis, and the fact that when the audience first sees her, she is exiting the school with a classroom of children.

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