Welcome to Role Call, where we call up TV’s leading ladies to talk about their most vital, memorable, and feminist TV moments.
“I’m just a scary brown girl in a little world,” Sivan Alyra Rose shrugs over the phone. It’s a jokey afterthought following a sprawling conversation on Chambers, her brand-new Netflix show bound for infamy; the magic of working with Miss Mia Wallace herself, Uma Thurman; and the creepy magnetism of Tony Goldwyn’s Ben LeFevre.
However Rose’s words pack a punch. Once you hop on Chambers' eerie bandwagon, you won't associate the word “scary” with the Arizona-raised actress — you'll think “scared.” Rose’s Sasha Yazzie is absolutely terrified from the jump of Chambers, premiering April 26. It's a teen horror series about a heart transplant gone nightmarishly wrong. And, as the star of a show poised to be the streaming service’s biggest spring hit, it’s impossible to imagine Rose’s world will be “little” for much longer.
Instead, Rose, an Apache-Latinx actress who grew up on the San Carlos Apache reservation, is breaking Netflix barriers left and right. This is only the start of the 18-year-old’s streaming revolution.
“I didn’t think I was going to be here at this age. I had goals and dreams and aspirations. But they felt like [only] goals, dreams, and aspirations,” Rose says, pointing out how “small” the “Native American energy” is in Hollywood. Then, the artist got tapped for a Chambers audition after wrapping the 2018 AFI student thesis film Running Shadow. She didn’t get it.
While Rose, who has lived off of her reservation for just two years, was “bummed” over the loss, she wasn’t exactly devastated. “All I really wanted to do was find some independence and maybe go back to school,” she admits. “I wasn’t really hellbent on the fame and glory of Los Angeles.”
But, when the Chambers production crew called to say they changed their minds and wanted her to read for Sasha once again, Rose was all in. She booked the role with just two days to prepare. Does Rose ever wonder what changed? “It’s still an elusive mystery. And I don’t know if I want to know,” Rose says. “Getting here now, I really feel like my own champion and my own superhero. “
It’s just a good spark of representation in the big pot of Hollywood.
Sivan Alyra Rose
Currently, Rose is trying to use those powers, and those of the A-listers around her, to kickstart an honest interest in indigenous stories. “[Uma] was someone I always was like Oh, she’s badass. I wanna do what she’s doing,” she says. Now, she is. “I hope other little brown girls see that. I hope they go like, 'Woah, this cult classic woman worked with this girl who looks like me?' … I really hope they feel that drive and feel that ‘Go fucking do it!’ Just do it. Do whatever you want, because you can.”
However, even if little brown girls start telling their stories en masse after Chambers, they won’t get the eyeballs they deserve until Hollywood comes to call. That’s why Rose hopes the show also reminds shot-callers that great Native American stories are out there — they just have to care enough to track them down. “I don’t wanna be the token native,” Rose asserts. “I want the industry to see me and go, ‘Oh my God, we should go to the res to find kids.’ … I hope it’s just a good spark of representation in the big pot of Hollywood.”
Chambers is certainly a narrative jolt. In a world overrun by indigenous stories dominated by Old West settings and hyper-masculine warriors, the Netflix drama is as modern as can be and told through the eyes of a trusting, emotional teen girl. Often the series turns our trapped-in-amber assumptions about Native Americans tale on its head.
Take, Sasha’s visit to a signing ceremony on her boyfriend TJ Locklear’s (Griffin Powell-Arcand) Navajo reservation (the show uses the tribe’s word, Diné).“She grabs [her mom’s traditional dress], and she’s like, I’m gonna be a real Navajo woman. It’s real weird and cheesy and inspirational,” Rose says with a laugh. Then Sasha walks into the event, and no one is in the similarly stuffy conservative garb she expected to see. Instead, everyone is wearing clothing you can buy at any Target; it’s all broken in jeans, comfy T-shirts, and camouflage hats. “It’s all awkward. Everyone’s staring [at Sasha’s outfit]. That scene right there, that’s Chambers. People have a preconceived notion of what a Native American is, and it’s very false.” Rose continues.
“There are so many indigenous kids who grew up in a city. They weren’t on a reservation … I want them to feel like, “Hey, I’m still Native, and I’m still proud — just like Sasha.”
While Rose hopes Chambers will make Native youths feel seen, she also understands it will make people question who’s stealing the culture as well. “There’s a reason everyone’s so blind to what [the Annex] is doing,” she says, referencing the blatant use of sacred indigenous symbols, practices, and even bodies (see: the local high school's mascot) for the benefit of Crystal Valley’s wealthy white residents.
I really feel like my own champion and my own superhero.
Sivan Alyra Rose
“But I think Chambers definitely does a good job of showing ‘Yeah, [these traditions] came from somewhere, and it’s not what you think it is,” the actress says. Take the scene where Tony Goldwyn’s Ben LeFevre burns himself with sage to cleanse his spirit, aping a Native American practice. It doesn’t work. “It wasn’t enough to rid him of whatever he was feeling. No matter how many how CDs he listens to. No matter how blue in face he gets. [The sage] wasn’t going to cleanse him of what he wanted it to cleanse him of,” Rose explains. “No matter how hard he believed it, because it’s not for him necessarily.”
But, it is for people like Rose — people who created these practices and have honoured them for generations. Or, as Rose says, “Your spirituality is so deep, and it shouldn’t be commercialised.”