Gil Birmingham brings Chickasaw historical figure to life in film ‘Te Ata’

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Release Date: December 16, 2021


In the “Twilight” film series, he portrays Billy Black. On television’s “Yellowstone,” he fills the role of chairman Thomas Rainwater. He is Gil Birmingham, and, with Chickasaw Nation Production’s “Te Ata,” fans of the award-winning First American actor have another venue to appreciate his work.

With an acting career spanning more than 60 film and television productions, Birmingham was more than prepared to portray Chickasaw historical figure Thomas Benjamin Thompson, who was best known for working with former Chickasaw Nation Governor Douglas H. Johnston to protect the Chickasaw people during the years immediately before and after Oklahoma statehood.

Thompson began his service with the Chickasaw Nation in 1888 as a clerk of the Chickasaw Supreme Court. He maintained a close relationship with Governor Johnston throughout his life as they engaged in several business partnerships, including successful general stores.

As an original enrollee, Thompson spent endless hours helping fellow Chickasaws register with the Dawes Commission. He encouraged his children and grandchildren to be proud of their Chickasaw heritage and to keep the traditions of the tribe alive. In 2013, Thompson would be inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame.

His daughter, Mary Frances “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher, embraced her father’s lessons as she went on to traverse cultural barriers and become one of the greatest First American performers of all time.

Born in Indian Territory, and raised on the songs and stories of her Chickasaw culture, Te Ata’s journey to find her true calling led her through isolation, discovery, love and a stage career that culminated in performances for a United States president, European royalty and audiences across the world. Yet, of all the stories she shared, none is more inspiring than her own.

Birmingham acted alongside the talented Q'orianka Kilcher as they portrayed the special father-daughter relationship between Thompson and Te Ata.

For Birmingham’s complete filmography, visit GilBirmingham.com.

About “Te Ata”

“Te Ata” features an all-star cast including Kilcher (“The New World” and “Yellowstone”); Graham Greene (“Dances with Wolves” and “Northern Exposure”); Birmingham (“Twilight,” “Yellowstone” and “Hell or High Water”); Brigid Brannagh (“Army Wives” and “Runaways”); Mackenzie Astin (“Wyatt Earp” and “Windsor”); and Oklahoma native Cindy Pickett (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Guiding Light”).

In 2014, the Chickasaw Nation embarked upon telling the story of Mary Francis “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher, born in 1895, in Emet, Indian Territory. She acted on Broadway, toured Europe, entertained Britain’s King George and Queen Elizabeth, in addition to other European dignitaries.

The movie follows the early life, education and career of Thompson, who wed famed astronomer Dr. Clyde Fisher in 1933. He served as curator at the American Museum of Natural History and later as head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

This feature film made about her life follows the events of Te Ata’s journey to fame. She was a favorite performer of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She performed for the Roosevelts’ first state dinner honoring British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. Te Ata also performed for the president and his wife at their home at Hyde Park, New York.

“Te Ata” is now available to stream on Netflix.

About the Chickasaw Nation