Meet the Navajo Woman in U2's 'One Tree Hill' Joshua Tree Tour Video
May 31, 2017
“Casting Tour Visuals for an Iconic Grammy Winning Band,” the notice said. “Interesting, real faces — the backbone of America.” And at the top of the list of desired faces was “Native Americans & Elders.”
That blind casting call was the start of Pamela J. Peters’ emotional trip to an on-screen role in U2’s Joshua Tree Tour 2017 concert video for “One Tree Hill.”
In the video, filmed by Anton Corbijn, she appears with friend and fellow Indigenous actor Monty Bass toward the end of the song and video (at about 4:56), when Bono sings the “Oh great ocean, oh great sea” part. Peters and Bass are dressed in tribal regalia as they stand tall on the left-hand side of the screen, a beautiful desert landscape and reddish-orange moon behind them.
Peters, an Indigenous documentarian and photographer, grew up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and moved to Los Angeles when she was 17. She is working on a multimedia project, Legacy Of Exiled NDNZ, about the history of American Indians living in Los Angeles.
Peters, who lives in downtown Los Angeles., said she’s used to working behind the camera and didn’t plan to audition for the video herself. She also does casting for American Indian actors in Los Angeles, and contacted the casting coordinator for the undisclosed band’s video when she saw the notice online.
The coordinator, she said, told her they didn’t have enough American Indians yet for the shoot, and asked if she was Native American. After a video screening, Peters said, “the director liked me, and they asked me to be a part of it.”
Although the “iconic” band was supposed to be a mystery, Peters deduced the U2 connection.
“When I found out the director was Anton Corbijn, I looked at his reel, and figured this was probably a video for U2,” she said.
Peters, a fan of the band, was thrilled. As a teenager in the 1980s, she owned the original Joshua Tree album (on cassette). She still wells up hearing “With Or Without You” because the song was played at the funeral of a high school friend who died in a car accident.
The lyrics and video for “One Tree Hill” have now taken on similar emotional meaning for Peters.
“One Tree Hill” was written in memory of Greg Carroll of New Zealand, a dear friend and employee of U2 who was killed in a traffic accident in Dublin in 1986. So far during The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, the song has been dedicated to singer Chris Cornell, who died May 18, and the victims of the recent concert bombing in Manchester, England.
“When I learned a little more about the song when the video came out, it seemed perfect for my situation too,” said Peters.
In between the audition and “One Tree Hill” video shoot in April, Peters said, her older sister died of cancer at age 54 on the Navajo reservation where they grew up. Peters was with her when she passed away.
At the time, she feared a Navajo tradition would keep her out of the upcoming video.
“We have a custom to cut our hair when a loved one in our family dies,” Peters explained. “I auditioned with long hair. When I came back for the video, I said, ‘I don’t know if you’ll consider me now because I’ve cut my hair.’” The team still wanted her.
The video shoot, Peters said, took place at the beginning of April in Lancaster, California, a desert city about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. Like Death Valley National Park (very close to the home of the U2 Joshua tree), Lancaster is in the Mojave Desert, but at its western end, 218 miles southwest of Death Valley.
About 40 people were at the shoot, Peters said, but were told that all might not make it into the final videos.
Peters said she and Bass, a friend and American Indian actor she’s known for a long time, “hung out together, and they kind of paired us together.”
They were on the set about 14 hours, with Corbijn filming them in the afternoon and into the evening as the sun went down.
And that was it. Peters did not know she actually made it into the video until friends at U2’s Seattle concert recognized her on screen and sent her a photo asking, “Did I just see you?!??”
When she learned more about the story behind “One Tree Hill,” Peters said, “I told people that in a way my participation in this video was a tribute to my sister’s life as well.”
Peters said she thought U2 wanted the video “to pay tribute to their friend, and bring attention to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and all over the world. I would love for them to know that I have an emotional attachment to the song, too.”
I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky
(photo courtesy of Pamela J. Peters' Twitter account, @NavajoFilmmaker)