Every year on Carnival Day, Black Indians parade the streets of New Orleans in magnificent feathered and beaded costumes to honor those Native Americans who aided their African ancestors escape from slavery. Big Chief follows legendary Chief Darryl Montana as he prepares for Mardi Gras Day—and explores the heritage of racist oppression that sparked those spectacular performances.
Big Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas tribe, Darryl Montana’s lineage reaches back to the first black American to don an Indian mask in honor of the Native Americans who aided enslaved Africans in escaping from bondage. Passed down through his family for generations, the tradition was transformed by Darryl’s father Tootie Montana (recognized as an NEA National Heritage Fellow in 1987) from a violent reenactment of Native American warfare into high art. Darryl is renowned for his magnificent crowns, and Big Chief documents as he sews his beaded and feathered suit for Mardi Gras Day, a symbol both of his artistic leadership within his community and of the history of African-American resistance to racist oppression.
Darryl Montana has given director Sascha Just unprecedented access, resulting in exclusive footage of drum practices and of never-before-seen preparations for Mardi Gras Day. Big Chief culminates with Darryl’s performance on Mardi Gras Day. Jason Marsalis (youngest member of the Marsalis music family) wrote the soundtrack for Big Chief inspired by Black Indian songs (performed during drum practices and on Mardi Gras Day) and funk music by, for example, The Meters, to which Black Indian songs gave birth.