Ray Mala was the first non-white actor to play a leading role in a Hollywood film
ANCHORAGE – A campaign kicked off Tuesday night for Ray Mala, the first non-white actor and the first Alaska Native to star in a Hollywood film.
The film was “Eskimo,” which won the first Academy Award for editing and was shot in Alaska. People packed the theatre at Cyrano’s Tuesday for a screening of the movie and to learn about the effort to get Mala his star on the Walk of Fame.
“It’s not gonna be a no-brainer,” said Ron Holmstrom, the Alaska representative to the Screen Actors Guild. “It’s gonna take some work on all our parts as Alaskans coming together on this.”
It costs $30,000 to get a star today, and Holmstrom said Mala would probably have his star already if it hadn’t been for censorship created in the motion picture industry when the actor was in his prime.
“Mala had previously been a leading man with white leading ladies,” Holmstrom explained to the crowd. “Well, the Hays Office said, ‘We can’t have that. We can’t have these beautiful white women working with guys that aren’t white.’”
From that point on, Mala’s career as a movie star fizzled out. He turned to camerawork and acted in smaller roles.
“If not for that huge misstep, in the Golden Age of Hollywood, his star would probably already be there,” Holmstrom said.
Mala’s grandson, Ted Mala Jr., was present, along with author Lael Morgan. Morgan wrote a book about Mala’s life and was the catalyst for the campaign.
“I think the family had thought about it, but without a book he’d been gone so long,” Morgan said. “But when the book came out, we thought we had a real possibility.”
The campaign kickoff was intended to coincide with Alaska Native Heritage month, according to Ted Mala Jr. The application is due in May and the campaign momentum will pick up early next year, he said.
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