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Meet Yellowstone’s Monica Dutton: Kelsey Asbille 

Actress Kelsey Asbille is no stranger to the small screen, and she has earned quite an impressive resume with her roles in One Tree Hill, Pair of Kings, Teen Wolf, Embeds, and Wind River. But it wasn’t until she landed the role of Monica Dutton in the hit neo-Western series Yellowstone that her name finally made a banging noise, and her career shifted dramatically. 

Meet Kelsey Asbille

Kelsey Asbille, daughter of Jean and Jim Chow and oldest of three siblings, stepped into the world of performing at a very young age. She started with dance performances and school plays, leading her to community theater and joining the cast of Ragtime at Workshop Theatre in her hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, at age 11. 

Two years later, she officially made her TV debut as Gigi Silveri on One Tree Hill. It was her first week as a freshman at Hammond High School when her mom picked her up, drove to Hardee’s for a snack, and delivered the good news. In a later interview for the Columbia Metropolitan, the actress shared that she booked the role thanks to her fierce advocate Sheilah Dixon, whom she met while enrolled in a basic development class under the Millie Lewis Agency. Asbille recalled being a very shy girl back then, and her mom thought the class would help her build her confidence.

True enough, moms are always right. And she did get more than just confidence. She got a role. 

Asbille played Gigi for four years, from 2005-2009, and after her stint on the series ended, she landed a recurring role on the Disney XD series Pair of Kings. She guest-starred on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody in 2008. Then she nabbed film credits with appearances in Den Brother (2010), Amazing Spiderman (2012), Run and The Wine of Summer (2013), and Full of Grace in 2015. Shortly after, she returned to the small screen with Teen Wolf and Embeds. 

Aside from TV and film, Asbille has also been cast in a music video, co-starring with Stefanie Scott in Hayley Kiyoko’s “Girls Like Girls.”

Despite her busy schedule, Kelsey Asbille was able to experience once-in-a-lifetime performances – singing at the Vatican and performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – with the Hammond Select Ensemble and graduate on time with her friends. 

She was also able to pursue her degree in Human Rights at Columbia University. Initially, Asbille wanted to follow in the footsteps of her grandparents, who worked with the World Health Organization (WHO), and her father, Dr. Jim Chow, who is a surgeon with Columbia Skin Clinic. But Public Health wasn’t offered as a major, so she opted for Human Rights, which she felt encapsulated the work she wanted. She also actively worked with the Indigenous Women’s Alliance of South Carolina with her mother, Jean, who has a background in law and clinical psychology. 

How did she land the role of Monica Dutton in Yellowstone?

 RELATED: Unveiling the Yellowstone Crew: Get to Know the Series’ Main Characters

In 2017, Kelsey Asbille played the role of a young Native American woman in the neo-Western crime film Wind River written and directed by Oscar nominee Taylor Sheridan alongside Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner. While there’s no official story (yet), Asbille’s compelling performance in the film may have had an impact on her casting as Monica Long Dutton in Yellowstone. That is, Monica is also a Native American. She is the grandchild of Felix Long, one of the Indian elders on the Broken Rock Reservation.

Well, that and her “white lie” during her audition. In her appearance on Kelly Clarkson’s NBC talk show, the actress confessed that she may have embellished her resume with a whole paragraph of special skills. To be fair, Asbille is talented and can even speak and read Mandarin Chinese. So, there’s that. 

The Controversy

Yellowstone has a strong Native American presence which led to an influx in opportunities for native actors. According to DeLanna Studi, actor and chair of the SAG-AFTRA National Native Americans Committee, Native American actors get only a handful of opportunities in the film and TV industry outside the small number of available native roles. So this was a huge deal. 

However, the show was met with heated controversy after Kelsey Asbille was cast as Monica. 

Asbille was born and raised in a multi-racial home. Her father is Chinese, while her mother is American. According to a New York Times article, the actress is of Taiwanese, British, and Eastern Band Cherokee heritage. Additionally, Asbille claimed that while she didn’t grow up in an Indigenous community, portraying the roles of Native Americans was “in her blood.” But upon digging, her claims didn’t hold. In a report made by Pechanga.net, an enrollment specialist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians stated: 

“Kelsey Asbille (Chow) is not now nor has she ever been an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. No documentation was found in our records to support any claim that she descends from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.”

Native American actor Adam Beach was one of the loudest voices criticizing Asbille’s casting. In an Instagram post, he said that Yellowstone was a “failure of diversity.” He also wrote an op-ed for Deadline wherein he further explained his frustration over the casting decision. He said, 

“It’s more than a last-minute bullet point on your resume or Wikipedia page to qualify you for a role you wouldn’t otherwise receive. Incidentally, claiming Native ancestry without proof makes one a fraud.”

He added that only a Native knows what and how it is to be a Native as they have lived experiences and understanding of the nuanced complexities of being one. And many Native actresses are more than capable of leading a TV show. 

But while there are strong feelings in the Native community about this controversy, Dr. Joely Proudfit, who helps run a consulting group for media called The Native Networkers, noted that minimizing this controversy to one individual is just “crumbs on the floor.” And what really needs to be addressed is the system that perpetuates this kind of misrepresentation. Studi added that these moments should be used as opportunities to open conversations, highlight issues, and present resources to fix mistakes.

Kelsey Asbille as Monica Dutton

In a 2018 interview with W Magazine, the actress described Monica as an extraordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances. 

Monica has survived the tragic loss of her family in the show’s early episodes. Her brother Robert was shot and killed by her own husband Kayce Dutton, and shortly after, her sister-in-law committed suicide. And then she could only watch as social services took her nieces and nephews away. She also didn’t hesitate to put her own life on the line to capture the predator who had been murdering the First Nation’s women. 

RELATED: Will Monica Live or Die in Yellowstone?

Asbille also added, “She’s [Monica] a wife, a mother, a teacher. And at the heart of it, the story is really about a strong woman trying to keep her family together.”

She stood with Kayce and protected their son Tate with everything she got. His well-being was and remained to be her first priority. She proved her loyalty to the Duttons, protecting them like one of her own despite the challenge of being caught between two worlds that will never agree. 

And it looks like fans will see more of Monica – something they might not have expected for her character – in Season 5 as the actress Kelsey Asbille unveiled her new short bob. We’ll have to stay tuned to see how her storyline unfolds. 

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