Cara Jade Myers, a member of the Kiowa and Wichita tribes, is an actor, writer, and 2020 fellow of the Native American Feature Film Writers Lab. This essay has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Growing up wasn’t easy. My parents were alcoholics and drug addicts with undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues. For me, movies were my escape. They showed me what life was like outside my abusive childhood and that the world was so much bigger than what I had known. They helped me believe that life could get better and that, in the end, the protagonist always succeeds and villain gets what they deserve.
As an adult, I’ve learned that these storytelling conventions don’t apply in the real world. The hero’s journey isn’t so linear. As humans, we are messy and flawed, and we don’t have a set story to follow, so we do the best we can.
I first planned on becoming an Egyptologist with an emphasis in astronomy. In college, I quickly realized that wasn’t my path; but I found myself lost as I worked to figure out how to leave my family situation behind. Then, I found acting.
Maybe since I grew up with nothing, I wasn’t afraid to risk everything; and maybe I was young enough to not fear the recklessness of following this uncertain career. Either way, my husband and I packed up our pups and moved to L.A.
There, I took multiple crew jobs to learn all I could about filmmaking. It was overwhelming, but I kept at it, consistently working and auditioning. Eventually, I got tired of seeing casting notices that read, “Hot young woman, doesn’t say much”; or, because I’m Native American—Kiowa and Wichita—ones that read, “Poor, young alcoholic mother, lives on rez, dealing with the trauma of…”
That’s when I started writing and falling in love with a new form of storytelling. I learned so much during that time; everything I wrote and read helped me become a better actor.
I was extremely fortunate to be a part of the Feature Film Writers Lab through the Native American Media Alliance. There, I found a Native community that felt unseen in the media that was determined to show the world that each tribe has their own beautiful and unique customs and traditions.
Today, I teach acting and filmmaking classes to youth on reservations. Oftentimes, our stories are told by non-Natives, and we’re shown as a monolith in buckskin, needing to be saved by the white man, or as the villains. However, master filmmakers are beginning to seek out our stories, and that’s one step closer toward Natives having a plethora of films and series about our lives, told by us.
In January 2020, I was prepared to quit acting and focus on my writing career. Then, an audition I thought I had lost in 2019 came back around. I couldn’t believe it. Next came a callback, followed by an audition with a legendary director. Next, I was in a Zoom room with four other women doing a chemistry read. Then I got the call: I had booked the job. I wish I remember what was said after “congratulations,” but I was crying too hard. It was a long, hard trek, but I had made it to the next part of my journey.
I believe if you work hard enough, are kind, and pursue your dreams relentlessly—no matter how long and nonlinear that road is—you will get there in the end.
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of Backstage Magazine.