The Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians is breaking into Hollywood and joining forces with actress Angelina Jolie to produce a film about the life of legendary Native American athlete Jim Thorpe.

Kevin Day, chairman of the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, said the tribe was one of the first to invest in the project back in 2015 after speaking with Thorpe’s family, including his son, Bill, who expressed their support.

“We think it’s a true story being told and that was verified by his son and family members, so we liked that idea,” Day said.

The film, titled “Bright Path: The Jim Thorpe Story,” follows the life of the world-renowned athlete and member of the Sac and Fox Nation who won two Olympic gold medals representing the United States in 1912 pentathlon and decathlon.

Thorpe later played six seasons of Major League Baseball after being signed by the New York Giants in 1913. He also played for six teams in the National Football League. He was recognized by the Associated Press as the greatest athlete from the first half of the 20th century.

Many of Thorpe’s accomplishments in sports occurred while his citizenship went unrecognized because he was Native American during a time of severe racial inequality in the United States.

“We understand Jim Thorpe and what he went through,” Day said. “We wanted the real story, and we think this is going to be it.”

Day said the team involved with the film is close to acquiring all of the funding needed to start production, which he believes will happen soon. They’ve talked about filming location in Canada and California, though Day said not in Tuolumne County.

In addition to Jolie, who was announced as a producer earlier this month, the team includes Todd Black, producer of the Academy Award-nominated 2016 film “Fences,” Steve Tisch of Escape Artists Productions, which has produced films starring Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Nicholas Cage, and producer Abraham Taylor.

Martin Sensmeier, who starred as Red Harvest in the 2016 remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” will executive produce and star as Thorpe in the film.

Other American Indian tribes that are helping to finance the film include the Mohegan Tribe, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, Tonto Apache Tribe, and the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria.

Day said he first heard about the project from Rick Hill, former chairman of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, who spoke about it at a meeting of the Central California Tribal Chairmen’s Association that he was attending.

There are several representatives consulting with the tribe behind the scenes. Day said he believes Thorpe’s son wants the tribes involved “at every level” of the production.

This doesn’t mean the tribe plans to get involved with future Hollywood productions, however.

“I think this might be a one-time deal, unless the right opportunity came along,” Day said. “We’re not in the movie business, if you will.”

The tribe owns and operates Black Oak Casino Resort in Tuolumne, which originally opened in 2001 as a casino and re-opened as the resort in 2005. It purchased the Tuolumne Rancheria in 1910 and now has more than 2,000 fee and trust acres.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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