JaShaun St. John didn’t know anyone who wanted to act while growing up on Pine Ridge and didn’t know any actors who were Native American.
With her recent success in a GAP campaign and being cast for a role in Marvel’s “Eternals,” St. John hopes to change the lack of representation of Indigenous People in mainstream media.
“I want to change that so it won’t discourage the younger generation and kids who want to act,” she said recently. “I think when you have these big dreams, especially being a Native, it’s not so discouraging when you know others who made it. I feel like there’s a lot of standards that come to being Native American and growing up on the reservation like how far you can make it.”
The 20-year-old from Pine Ridge is one of those featured in GAP’s Fall Individuals campaign, which debuted in September. The campaign highlights a diverse cast and brings forward each individual’s story.
In her commercial, St. John speaks in Lakoliyapi and talks about her parents teaching her what it means to be Lakota. She said she was able to work with GAP and make her own script.
“I’m glad GAP gave me that freedom because I was able to express it the way I wanted to and they were just willing to help me share it,” St. John said.
She said “Nomadland” director Chloé Zhao recommended her for the campaign, and the two appear together in campaign photos. St. John said Zhao knows she’s been working for the Lakota Language Immersion Program for two years.
“(Zhao) kind of used that in that we speak different languages, our heritages are different, but we’re still in the same industry,” St. John said.
She said she’s been receiving messages of thanks and congratulations for her work in the nationwide campaign.
“I feel like that’s what makes it the most rewarding is that I was able to inspire others,” St. John said. “I think that’s what’s really cool about being Native American — when we do something really good, it’s like a win for all of us.”
She said she met Zhao while fancy shawl dancing at a powwow on Pine Ridge when she was 11 in 2013.
St. John said she grew up between Pine Ridge and Crow Creek spending time with her mom's and dad's families. She said her grandmother on her mother's side raised her on Pine Ridge and encouraged her to dance.
“I had an auntie that dances and she’s someone I really look up to,” she said. “I grew up around her so I followed in her footsteps. I traveled with them and watched them. I learned to really, really enjoy it.”
When her grandmother died when she was 12, she stopped dancing.
Zhao asked St. John to audition for “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” which was initially called “Lee.” St. John said she auditioned the next day.
“She must’ve really liked my audition because she rewrote the whole script for me to be the leading role,” St. John said. “That’s how I know Chloe and I’m grateful we met.”
She said the movie was fun because many of the cast members were first-time actors. She said she also got to work with John Reddy, who played Johnny Winters in the film. She said she always wanted to be a little sister to someone and was able to do that on screen and felt that sibling connection with the actor.
St. John said she felt like she was able to put herself into her character of Jashaun in the film and resembles who she was at the time.
Zhao also casted St. John in Marvel’s upcoming “Eternals,” which will be released in theaters Nov. 5, but was cut during the editing process.
St. John said she’s not sure what’s next for her, but she’s living in Miami to save money. She said she’s still learning Lakoliyapi and hopes to be in more movies and projects in the future.
— Contact Siandhara Bonnet at firstname.lastname@example.org —