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‘The Avengers’ Lakota dub hits Disney+

Leah Mesquita

Eric Jens Sr. remembers watching the first “Iron Man” movie with his son, immediately feeling captivated by the bold, eccentric character.

“We watched the first one, the second one and the third one,” Jens, a language teacher in South Dakota, said. “Anything that came out (from) Marvel with Iron Man in it, we went to watch it.”

So when Jens, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, was given the opportunity to voice the beloved Marvel hero in “The Avengers” completely in Lakota, he knew he couldn’t turn it down.

“It was like destiny,” Jens said. “We’d watched them all so many times that in English (my son) could repeat every word. Now, hopefully he’ll watch this and be able to repeat every word in Lakota.”

The 2012 superhero film features Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

The movie joins other popular films that have been dubbed in a Native language. “Star Wars: A New Hope” and “Finding Nemo” were dubbed in Navajo, and the same Star Wars movie is being dubbed in Ojibwe and is expected to be completed in the coming months.

Premiere set for the Lakota dub of “The Avengers” (26:45)

Making the Lakota language accessible to young Native minds was always a priority, said Ray Taken Alive, an executive producer and Lakota translator.

“That’s the power of one of these types of projects,” Taken Alive, Standing Rock Nation, said. “A big part of language reclamation is to center our community. …From a teacher’s perspective, we can create lessons off of this and have conversational speech we can work on with kids.”

Taken Alive, a Lakota language instructor at McLaughlin High School in South Dakota, had talked about dubbing the 2012 movie a few summers ago, but had anticipated a long road ahead with little help from Marvel or Disney.

“Chuck reached out to Mark (Ruffalo), and we didn’t think anything of it for a couple months,” Taken Alive said. “Then I get a call from Chuck saying ‘Hey, can you get on this meeting?’”

Ray Taken Alive, left, Grace Draskovic, Ruby Shoe String and Myron Uses Arrow translate 2012 "The Avengers" script from English to Lakota-Dakota. More than 60 people participated in Grey Willow Music & Production Studio collaboration with Disney+ Marvel Studios. (Photo courtesy of Lawrence Archambault)

Both Taken Alive and Chuck Archambault were surprised when they were put on a call with several Deluxe Studio and Marvel executives.

“We didn’t prepare anything,” Taken Alive said. “We just explained what we wanted to do and that we wanted to dub the movie into Lakota. …They gave us approval and we thought we’d be on our own (after that).”

But the help didn’t stop there. Taken Alive and other executive producers had regular meetings where they walked through every step, even receiving a large grant from an anonymous donor.

“Without that, this project never would have come to be,” Taken Alive said. “Then we just started. We had never dubbed a movie before.”

After critical help from Lakota elders, three different script translations, a pause due to the SAG-AFTRA strike and getting some of the original cast onboard, everything came together.

Related: The road to ‘The Avengers’ in Lakota

“There’s more to it than just the movie,” Archambault, an executive producer on the project, said. “There’s a whole teaching aspect to this dub. …We hope that by putting this in the home of our people it’ll further their journey with the language.”

Taken Alive also said that the community-focused project led the production team to host multiple screenings around different nations instead of a traditional Hollywood premiere.

“If we did that, not many from our community would be able to attend,” Taken Alive said. “We wanted to do it at one of our nation’s schools and that’s where we wanted to bring the premiere first.”

The Lakota dub of ‘The Avengers’ will be available on Disney+ starting on June 14, though the Standing Rock Sioux tribe will also be receiving free access to the film through an online link.

“For those who don’t have Disney+ and other tribal members besides Standing Rock will have free access,” Taken Alive said. “One of the biggest obstacles is cost, so how can we make this open and freely available to everyone?”

Jodi Archambault, Hunkpapa and Oglala Lakota, is another executive producer and said that getting anything, let alone a Lakota-dubbed movie, on a national streaming platform is no easy task.

“The hardest thing is getting on any streaming (platform),” Jodi Archambault said. “That’s where everyone wants to be and it’s super hard to do right now. I think it’s a huge victory and I’m proud that it’s happening so quickly.”

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