Indians in the movies
...A Forum for American Indian Issues...
Fri Jun 20, 2008 at 22:10:41 PM PDT
( - promoted by navajo)
(Part II will appear next Friday.)
Rabbit-Proof Fence is my favorite big-screen movie of American Indians.
But that's an Australian movie, you say? Yep. The best film of American Indians is a Down Under 2002 movie about aboriginals without a loin-cloth, smear of war paint or drop of firewater in sight. It's the story of three young mixed-race girls who find their way home after being ripped away from their parents in 1931 by the government and trained to focus on their "white side" so they can become somebody's servants. A few critics have complained that this based-on-a-true-story movie goes overboard in demonizing the main white character (Kenneth Branagh) and depicting most other whites of the era as deeply bigoted, morally uncourageous paternalists. What could the director have been thinking?
The American version of Rabbit-Proof Fence has been out there for the telling ever since Thomas Edison showed his "movie" Hopi Snake Dance at the Columbian World Exposition in Chicago in 1893 on the brand-new kinetoscope his staff had developed. It's the story of how American Indian children were torn from their customs, religions, languages, tribes and parents by demons and paternalists who saw cultural genocide as the proper modern alternative to the centuries-old physical genocide that had become no longer an acceptable course of action. But of all the hundreds of movie Westerns depicting Indians, this story has failed to generate excitement among four or five generations of movie-makers. Instead, the Hollywood Indian has prevailed.
As Ted Jojola, an Isleta Pueblo Indian and associate professor at the University of New Mexico, wrote in his 1998 essay, "Absurd Reality II: Hollywood Goes to the Indians," Edison's choice presented a stereotypical view of American Indians that would ...
"...persist into contemporary times. Its longevity though, is explained by the persistence of myth and symbol. The Indian became a genuine American symbol whose distorted origins are attributed to the folklore of Christopher Columbus when he 'discovered' the 'New World.' Since then the film industry, or Hollywood, has never allowed Native America to forget it. The Hollywood Indian is a mythological being who exists nowhere but within the fertile imaginations of its movie actors, producers and directors. The preponderance of such movie images have reduced native people to ignoble stereotypes."
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