Today we can reveal first images of the completed movie, which tells “the true story of the last great American manhunt of the old west,” based on the oral history of the Chemehuevi tribe in Joshua Tree, California. Aquaman and Dune star Momoa is co-writer, executive producer and among cast.
Set in 1909 when a reputed murder spawns a tragedy reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, the film follows Willie Boy and his love Carlota who go on the run after he accidentally shoots her father in a confrontation gone terribly wrong. With President Taft coming to the area, the local sheriff leads two Native American trackers seeking justice for their “murdered” tribal leader.
The film features a largely Native American ensemble cast, including Martin Sensmeier (The Magnificent Seven) as Willie Boy; Mainei Kinimaka (See) as Carlota; Zahn McClarnon (Reservation Dogs) as Carlota’s father; Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon) as Carlota’s mother; Raoul Trujillo (Apocalypto); Brandon Oakes (Togo) and Tantoo Cardinal (Dances with Wolves).
Also starring are Christian Camargo (See), Wade Williams (The Dark Knight Rises), Jamie Sives (Chernobyl), Justin Campbell (The Hurt Locker), Mojean Aria (Reminiscence), Charlie Brumbly (Baywatch), Amy Seimetz (Pet Sematary) and Momoa (Aquaman).
Actor-filmmaker Christian Camargo directs the movie and portrays Sheriff Frank Wilson, a role that was previously played by Robert Redford in the 1969 film about the story, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here.
Producers are Martin Kistler and Jason Eric Laciste from a screenplay by Pa’a Sibbett and a story by Jason Momoa and Sibbett. Executive producers are LA Lakers president Jeanie Buss, Michael Acierno, Momoa and Brian Andrew Mendoza.
According to producers, Willie Boy’s fate was spun into a tale of “Savage Indian murder” by fear-mongering publications of the day. “To this day, most available research only provides slanted news publications that have kept Willie Boy a hardened criminal for many years”, the producers tell us.
Jason Momoa heard the story of Chemehuevi Desert Runner, Willie Boy, while in Joshua Tree and became fascinated by it. He called fellow Indigenous writer, Pa’a Sibbett, and both immediately warmed to the idea of a script.
Momoa and Sibbett spoke with tribal leaders of the 29 Palms band of Chemehuevi, some of which are direct descendants of Willie Boy’s story. In that meeting the tribes were given the script and told that if there was any reason they didn’t feel comfortable with the production of such a beloved story, then production would stop and no movie would be filmed. The tribal leaders agreed to production and filming began with a tribal ceremony with members of the Chemehuevi, Serrano and Cahuilla tribes participating.
The production included Dr. Cliff Traftzer, a long-time researcher and scholar of California’s desert tribes, as well as Matt Leivas, one of the last keepers of the sacred Chemehuevi Salt Songs and respected elder, to consult on the script. Matt Leivas agreed to chant the sacred songs and assist with the Chemehuevi language spoken in the film.
According to the team, while filming in Banning, California, Momoa also met with the people of Morongo. Shortly after, the Cahuilla band of Indians donated their land at Agua Caliente with no charge to the production
Jason Momoa told us: “I love Joshua Tree and the community out there. I remember hearing about Willie Boy, the Desert Runner, and was fascinated by the story surrounding him. What should be a universal story of a relationship gone bad, quickly became a muddy, complex story about the power of crooked media and how Native Americans are portrayed to the public. The true story of Willie Boy has never been told, and it’s a beautiful one. I developed the story with my team because I wanted to set the record straight, and set the spirits of this story free.”
Producer Martin Kistler commented: “The truth of Willie Boy’s story lies in the overlooked voices of the desert: the Chemehuevi people who have inhabited the desert for many generations. If you listen to them, Willie Boy wasn’t a savage murderer, he was simply a man who fell in love with a woman that wasn’t meant for him. With underrepresented cultures coming to the forefront in film and tv, we were committed to approach this Native tale with the utmost respect to the cultures represented by it, hoping to set a precedent for how Hollywood could approach stories of diversity like this.”
Executive producer Jeanie Buss added: “I vividly remember the iconic moment in Oscar history when Sacheen Littlefeather represented Marlon Brando to raise awareness of Native American issues at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973, accepting the Best Actor Award for his performance of The Godfather. I was only 12 years old, but it left such a profound and lasting impact on me, and this is why The Last Manhunt is important to me. I am very proud that we honored the true story of Willie Boy.”