It’s been less than a week since Misty Upham’s body was found at the bottom of a steep cliff in Washington state. The 32-year-old actress, who was Native American and a member of the Blackfeet Nation, was known for her recent roles in popular films like “August: Osage County” and “Django Unchained,” but also made her mark in memorable performances in “Frozen River” and “Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian.”
Upham’s family reported her missing on October 6 and at first feared that she had committed suicide after a change in her medication for anxiety and bipolar disorder. After her body was found on October 16 by a search party made up of family and friends, those closest to the actress said publicly that they believe that she died accidently while trying to hide from police, who didn’t do enough when alerted that she was missing and was possibly in danger due to her illness. According to them, she had good reason to hide. In a statement posted on Facebook last Friday, family members recounted disturbing details about a previous run-in with local cops:
Misty was afraid of the Auburn PD officiers [sic] with good reason. In an incident prior to her disappearance, the Auburn PD came to pick up Misty on an involuntary transport to the ER. She was cuffed and placed in a police car. Some of the officiers [sic] began to taunt and tease her while she was in the car. Because it was dark they couldn’t see that we, her family, were outside our apartment just across the street witnessing this behavior. They were tapping on the window making faces at her. Misty was crying and she told themyou can’t treat me like this I’m a movie actress and I will use my connections to expose you. Then another officer walked up to her asked “are you a movie star?, then why don’t complain to George Clooney!” After Misty arrived at the ER we went to see her and she has a swollen jaw, black eye and scratches and bruises on her shoulder. I asked the ER staff what happened and they said Misty was brought in like that. Misty said she couldn’t remember what happened but thats why she feared the police.
Family friend and spokesperson Tracy Rector told the Washington Post that tension has been especially high between local police officers and Native Americans near where Upham’s body was found, on tribal land near Aubrun, Washington that’s interspersed with areas under the jurisdiction of local authorities.
“The family pleaded for the police department to look for her; they pleaded for dogs,” Rector said in an interview with The Post on Friday. Long-standing tensions between police and Native Americans on the Muckleshoot Reservation might have played a role, Rector said.
“Unfortunately, it feels like 1950?s racism in many ways,” said Rector, a Seattle-based filmmaker. “The family is concerned that Misty was considered just another Native person and treated as such. Even that is unacceptable. Native lives matter. It doesn’t matter what her skin color was.”
It’s a shocking and mysterious end to a remarkable young life. Just after her critically acclaimed performance alongside Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County” earned her a Screen Actor’s Guild Award Nomination, Upham wrote about the day she got the role that would change her life in an essay for The Daily Beast.
At the time when I received that life-changing phone call, I was paying my bills as a housecleaner…That’s what I hoped to convey when I landed the role of Johnna in August: Osage County, a young Native American woman who answers an ad for a housekeeper and caregiver for Violet Weston, a troubled matriarch played by Meryl Streep. I wanted to bring the humanity and dignity of this woman to the big screen.
In the interview below, Upham talks about being on set of the film and getting to “believe in the magic.”
Her family has set up a crowdsourcing page to help raise funds for her memorial.