Woman Walks Ahead

Woman Walks Ahead is a 2017 American biographical drama film directed by Susanna White and written by Steven Knight. The film is the story of Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a portrait painter who travels from New York to Dakota to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes) in 1890. Chaske Spencer and Sam Rockwell also star.

Woman Walks Ahead
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySusanna White
Produced by
Written bySteven Knight
Music byGeorge Fenton
CinematographyMike Eley
Edited byLucia Zucchetti
Distributed by
Release date
  • September 10, 2017 (2017-09-10) (TIFF)
  • June 29, 2018 (2018-06-29) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • English
  • Lakota
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$76,713[2][3]

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival September 10, 2017. It was released through DirecTV Cinema on May 31, 2018, before being released in a limited release on June 29, 2018, by A24.


Catherine Weldon, a portrait painter from 1890s Brooklyn, travels to Dakota to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull and becomes embroiled in the Lakota peoples' struggle over the rights to their land.[4]



On February 3, 2016, it was reported that Jessica Chastain was in talks to play Sitting Bull's confidante in Woman Walks Ahead, directed by Susanna White.[5] On September 14, 2016, Michael Greyeyes, Sam Rockwell, Ciarán Hinds, Chaske Spencer, and Bill Camp joined the cast, with principal photography having begun in New Mexico.[6]


The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2017.[7][8] Shortly after, A24 and DirecTV Cinema acquired distribution rights to the film.[9] Its U.S. premiere was at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25, 2018.[10][11]

It was released through DirecTV Cinema on May 31, 2018, before being released in a limited release on June 29, 2018.[12][13]


On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 53% based on 36 reviews, and an average rating of 5.9/10.[14] On Metacritic, which assigns a rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 51 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[15]

Despite mixed reviews, Michael Greyeyes received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Sitting Bull.[16][17][18][19] The New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis called his performance "a miracle of intelligence and dignity".[16] RogerEbert.com contributor Susan Wloszczyna raved about his performance, calling it "the most subtle, soulful, and believable".[17] Los Angeles Times and Village Voice described his presence as captivating as “wry wit and quiet gravity” while the latter described his performance as "stirring".[18]

Historical inaccuracies

The plot revolves around a vote in 1890 to "ratify" a "Dawes Act Treaty" whereby the tribal members would decide whether their reservation would be allotted — wrongly implying that tribal members had some say in the allotment process. In fact, the last treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate (tribes did not "ratify" treaties) was the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.[20] After 1868, Congress unilaterally dictated Indian policy to the tribes. One such policy was allotment, authorized by the Dawes Act of 1887 and subsequent statutes.[21] Under the Dawes Act, the president was authorized to survey a reservation, allot 40 to 160 acre tracts to tribal families and individuals, then open the "surplus" lands for sale to non-Indians. Tribal members had no say in the matter, and that's understandable given that destruction of tribalism was one goal of the policy. President Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, thought of allotment as a "mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass... [acting] directly upon the family and the individual."[22] The allotment policy led to the loss of nearly 90 million acres of tribal lands,[23] and destabilized tribal self-governance until after passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.[22] More than a century later, tribes continue to struggle with the aftermath of allotment as they try to govern reservations with checkerboard land ownership patterns, and where federal Indian law allows tribes little authority over non-Indian landowners on the reservation.

The film concludes with the assassination of Sitting Bull by a hidden sniper who appears to be of Native American descent — purportedly because of his opposition to the "ratification" of the Dawes Act Treaty. Sitting Bull was opposed to assimilation and allotment, but the main concern of officials was Sitting Bull's support for the Messiah (Ghost Dance) movement. Sitting Bull was killed while being arrested at daybreak on December 16, 1890, but according to Indian Agent James McLaughlin the shooting occurred during a confused scuffle between several dozen Indian police and a group of about 150 "crazed Ghost Dancers."[24][25][26] Details vary, but no known alternative view materially disputes McLaughlin's version of the tragic event.


  1. Peele, Anna (June 6, 2018). "How Jessica Chastain Emerged as a Leader for Gender Equality: "Your Silence Is Your Discrimination"". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  2. "Woman Walks Ahead (2018)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  3. "Woman Walks Ahead". The Numbers. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  4. Pollack, Eileen (2002). Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 9781515965626.
  5. Jaafar, Ali (February 3, 2016). "Jessica Chastain To Star In 'Woman Walks Ahead' With Susanna White Directing". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  6. Hipes, Patrick (September 14, 2016). "Sam Rockwell, Michael Greyeyes & More Join Jessica Chastain In 'Woman Walks Ahead'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  7. "Woman Walks Ahead". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  8. Fleming, Mike Jr. (July 25, 2017). "Toronto Film Festival 2017 Unveils Strong Slate". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  9. D'Alessandro, Anthony (October 20, 2017). "Jessica Chastain Sitting Bull Painter Pic 'Woman Walks Ahead' Snapped Up By A24 & DirecTV". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  10. Raup, Jordan (March 7, 2018). "Tribeca 2018 Lineup Includes 'Disobedience,' 'The Miseducation of Cameron Post,' 'The Seagull,' and More". The Film Stage. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  11. "Woman Walks Ahead". Tribeca Film Festival. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  12. "Coming Soon". A24. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  13. Billington, Alex (April 24, 2018). "Trailer for Susanna White's 'Woman Walks Ahead' with Jessica Chastain". FirstShowing.net. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  14. "Woman Walks Ahead (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  15. "Woman Walks Ahead Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  16. Catsoulis, Jeannette (June 28, 2018). "Review: A 'Woman Walks Ahead,' and Sitting Bull Stands Up". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  17. Wloszczyna, Susan (June 29, 2018). "Woman Walks Ahead". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  18. Chang, Justin (June 28, 2018). "Jessica Chastain plays the artist who painted Sitting Bull in the inert history lesson 'Woman Walks Ahead'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  19. Scherstuhl, Alan (June 27, 2018). ""Woman Walks Ahead" Finds Jessica Chastain and Sitting Bull Lost on the Plains". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  20. "Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868)". Our Documents. Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  21. "The Dawes Act February 8, 1887". PBS: New Perspectives on the West. 2001. Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  22. White, Phillip Allen (1997). "The Tribal Exhaustion Doctrine: "Just Stay on the Good Roads, and You've Got Nothing to Worry About"". American Indian Law Review. 22: 74 via Digital Commons.
  23. "Land Tenure History". The Indian Land Tenure Foundation. 2018. Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  24. "An Account of Sitting Bull's Death by James McLaughlin Indian Agent at Standing Rock Reservation (1891)". PBS: New Perspectives on the West. 2001. Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  25. Utley, Robert M. (2004). "The Last Days of the Sioux Nation, 2nd Edition". Yale University Press. p. 158.
  26. Utley, Robert M. (2004). "The Last Days of the Sioux Nation, 2nd Edition". Yale University Press. p. 160.
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