In an attempt to preserve the Navajo language through the use of popular culture, Navajo Nation Museum director Manuelito Wheeler brought about the translation of movies “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” and “Finding Nemo.”
Casting these projects began with a call to the public and resulted in Navajo speakers of all fluencies showing up for auditions. Wheeler acknowledged that while many people may be able to speak Navajo, only a small percentage of speakers are literate. That didn’t stop anyone from being cast though. As long as actors and actresses could listen to a guide track, repeat words and bring emotion, they didn’t have to be able to read the script.
So here comes a person who’s not fluent in Navajo, then they get a role in this movie, so that’s how these movies are influencing the language – by giving people the idea that it’s possible.
-Manuelito Wheeler, Director of Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, AZ
Elbert Jumbo (pictured above) said he answered the casting call by chance – he happened to be in the area. He didn’t think he would be selected, but a few weeks later Jumbo got a callback for a minor character in the fish tank: Gurgle. Initially, he returned to play that role, but was also offered the part of Bruce the shark.
His kids were proud to know that their father had played such a big part in the movie.
I mean they were quick to show their friends and say, ‘Oh look, this is my dad making the voice of Bruce!’ People would ask me, ‘Oh, did you do Bruce?’ People on Facebook or on social media, “Oh, you did Bruce the shark?’ and I was like, ‘yeah I did.’
It’s something that I guess you’d say I take with pride.
-Elbert Jumbo, voice of Bruce the shark