Randy Reinholz remembers sitting with three young Native people on a reserve somewhere in southern Canada several years ago and bringing up the idea of going to college. After a few chuckles, the students tell him that attending a university is simply out of the question.
“I never could come up with a reason why they couldn’t go to college,” Reinholz said. “But they had that impression of themselves.”
It’s an attitude that exists among many young Native people and one that Reinholz (Choctaw) hopes to change as he moves from interim to permanent director of San Diego State University’s School of Theatre, Television and Film where he is a tenured professor.
Reinholz, 46, certainly has the experience for success. Reinholz, who received a B.A. in communications from William Jewell College and a M.F.A. in acting from Cornell University, has spent the past 20 years as an actor, director, producer and script developer in theatre, film and television in the United States and Canada. But what he enjoys most is teaching talented young minds to succeed in the business.
“He seems very well-suited to handle any administrative challenges he will have,” said James Lujan (Taos Pueblo), director of Intertribal Entertainment at the Southern California Indian Center in Los Angeles, who has known Reinholz for about three years. “His primary strength is balancing the administrative and creative sides; he is good at juggling both.”
And Reinholz says he is ready for the task.
“I like interaction with active minds,” Reinholz said. “Producing very much can be about getting really exciting people in the room, hearing ideas, letting them come up with projects, responding to the projects and then looking for places for those projects to be realized.”
But getting Native Americans into the field -- Reinholz realizes that he faces some challenges. Young people, especially those from poor communities, are looking for the opportunity to gain a steady income, which some feel the arts often do not initially provide.
“A lot of people think they if they are going to go to the trouble to go to college, and they’re from an underserved community, they don’t want to waste college on art. And I think that’s such a negative way to look at it,” Reinholz said. “(We need to) start to use our arts to tell our stories, to communicate our culture and to celebrate our youth. These young people have so much potential.”
As producing artistic director of Native Voices at the Autry, Reinholz works with several young Native artists, watching their work lead them from one project to another. The program, established at the Los Angeles-based Autry National Center in 1999, allows Native American playwrights to develop and produce new works for the stage. Native Voices at the Autry is also one place where young Native people can go to gain the experience to make them more employable, Reinholz said.
And as more young Native Americans begin to hit the stage or appear in front of the camera, Reinholz has a few words of advice: Not everything always has to be Native themed. He says it’s also important to create films or plays that cover issues outside of the Native community.
“Often we are doing things that are always Native American themed and they are always sort of isolated or segregated,” Reinholz said. “How do we get this work as sort of the fabric of society and culture?”
With all of the Native talent available today, large-scale films that are not Native themed are a definite possibility. Mainstream success by Native American filmmakers would be something Reinholz would truly enjoy.
“(Native people) want to say who they are,” Reinholz said. “Native people want to define who Native people are -- not be defined.”
by Zach Oliva