Here’s Where You’ve Seen That Awesome Native Actress in ‘The Last of Us’
The first scene of The Last of Us episode 6 begins in the home of an elderly Native couple. The husband, Marlon, comes home to find that Joel and Ellie have broken in and are holding his wife, Florence, at gunpoint. Florence doesn’t seem worried about her predicament, though. When Marlon asks why she didn’t shoot them, she replies, “The gun’s all the way over there.” Throughout the scene, the two needle each other and poke fun at Joel and Ellie. They’ve survived the apocalypse; they’re not afraid of one grumpy dude and a teenage girl.
If Florence looked familiar to you, here’s why: she’s the legendary Elaine Miles, or Marilyn Whirlwind on Northern Exposure.
What is Northern Exposure? Admittedly, I haven’t seen it since I was a kid, and it isn’t streaming anywhere, so my memory is fuzzy. However, I remember it being one of the sweetest, quirkiest sitcoms of the ’90s. It’s about a Jewish doctor named Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) who’s sent to the remote Alaskan town of Cicely to serve as its general practitioner. Marilyn, Joel’s wry and soft-spoken receptionist, was one of the show’s most likeable and memorable characters—one whose best moments stuck with me long after the other characters had faded from my memory.
What’s funny is that Miles didn’t initially audition for the role. According to Northern Exposure lore, she drove her mother Armenia Miles to the audition, but the casting director asked if Miles would audition, too. After both she and her mother got callbacks, Miles was cast as Marilyn—but her mother had a couple of guest spots as Marilyn’s mom.
Of course, the show had its flaws. The producers didn’t bother to learn the actual culture of the Alaska Natives Marilyn represented, so one episode featured Miles in the regalia of her own Cayuse and Nez Perce people. According to Nerds of Color, Miles initially didn’t feel comfortable confronting them about the mistake, but she eventually convinced them to make the effort to get it right.
Along with Northern Exposure, Miles also appeared in Smoke Signals, the 1998 film about two young Native men who take a road trip to retrieve one of their father’s ashes. Miles’ role is brief but unforgettable, as she and a friend drive down a highway on their reservation. Their car only works in reverse, though, so backwards they go.
Of course, Miles wasn’t the only star in that The Last of Us scene. Marlon is played by Graham Greene, known for his roles in Dances With Wolves and American Gods. He’s also appearing in the upcoming Marvel series Echo.
Native people online have been celebrating the scene.
Of course, the fact that this scene is so newsworthy points to the still-abysmal state of Native representation in film and TV, which other Native writers quickly pointed out.
There’s only one solution, of course: cast Miles, Greene, and other Native actors in everything. Seriously. Let’s see them in everything! I could easily watch these two spar with each other for hours.
At the very least, could some streaming platform buy the rights to Northern Exposure? I can’t say for sure whether it would hold up (especially with the inaccuracies), but I’d love to get more Marilyn Whirlwind back in my life.
(featured image: HBO Max)
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