A Mescalero Apache family in southern New Mexico has sued the producers of Steven Spielberg's television miniseries, "Into the West," claiming a set stylist cut an 8-year-old girl's hair without regard for tribal customs.
"It's part of our culture not to cut a girl's hair until her Coming of Age ceremony," the girl's father, Danny Ponce, said Friday in a telephone interview. "The only ones allowed to do that are the parents. Nobody asked for permission."
Ponce filed suit in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on March 6, naming Turner Films Inc. and the unknown stylist as defendants. The lawsuit seeks $250,000 for emotional distress and $75,000 in damages.
A Turner Films spokeswoman said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit says Ponce's daughter, Christina, responded through her parents last March to an open casting call for work on the TNT network miniseries, "Into the West," for a three-day shoot near Carrizozo, N.M.
The stylist cut the girl's hair, the lawsuit claims, "to make her look more 'Indian' and like a male Indian child because the movie casting call failed to produce sufficient young male extras of Indian heritage."
The Mescalero tradition forbids cutting a girl's hair as she approaches puberty. To prepare for womanhood, Mescalero girls participate in a sacred Coming of Age ceremony that requires their hair to reach the waist.
Before it was cut, Ponce said his daughter's hair fell midway down her back. It has since grown to her collar.
"This has to do with the culture of a tribal member," he said. "It was cut very short above her ears. She looked like a boy."
Gov. Bill Richardson in recent years has increased state efforts to attract the film industry to New Mexico. While Ponce welcomes those initiatives, he suggested filmmakers from outside the state should try to be more culturally sensitive.
"Just because you're wealthy, you don't do something without checking first," Ponce said.