May 23, 2016

Review of The Activist

Review: 'The Activist' suffers from lack of activity

By Gary GoldsteinIt's an intriguing setting—and set-up. But a lack of subtlety in the writing and much of the acting (particularly Circus-Szalewski and Ron Roggé as a pair of good cop/bad cop jailers) mitigate the power of the caged men's plights as well as the movie's intended tension. As the action unfolds almost entirely within the walls of a South Dakota sheriff's substation, the film can't escape a stagy, at times claustrophobic feel.A Story of Becoming Indigenous: A Movie Review of "The Activist" (2013)

By Eric RitskesIn sum: we have a savage Indian warrior and a (dead) Indian princess, the only two Indigenous characters (one dead)--in a film supposedly telling ‘forgotten’ Indigenous history--battling the one bad racist. I won’t spoil the end, in case you enjoy watching White settler colonial dramas masquerading as politically conscious movies, but The Activist is not a movie about Indigenous struggle; rather, it is one that uses the backdrop (and it really is little more than news reports in the background) of the Indigenous struggle at Wounded Knee to mask tired colonial narratives of disappearing Indians and settler replacement through White heroes who are down with the struggle as long as they get to become Indian.A video showing Tonantzin Carmelo as Sacheen Littlefeather.

Rob's review

The good cop and bad cop may have been clichés, but I thought they were the most interesting characters. Certainly more interesting than Marvin, the non-Native activist, and Bud, his Native bud.

As someone who's trying to make my own independent films, I can appreciate a movie set almost entirely in two rooms. But I don't think it succeeds.

In The Activist, Sacheen Littlefeather becomes Anna, who is murdered like Anna Mae Aquash, during the Wounded Knee occupation or the equivalent. This has something to do with the uranium mining also featured in Thunderheart, so the evil Nixon administration wants to declare the rez a nuclear zone or something and take it over.

The conspiracy plot is hard to follow, but the most annoying part is how the government lawyer wants to negotiate with the young white savior Marvin. Because Marvin knows Indians and is a bridge to them, or something.

Moreover, Marvin enlists a pretty blonde lawyer to do his legwork while he's in jail. Because when you're in trouble with the government, a hot babe just out of law school is your best bet.

Meanwhile, Bud (Michael Spears) can only fulminate in the next cell and get kicked around by the racist guard. Once again, Natives are supporting characters in their own story.

The Activist is passable but nothing special. Rob's rating: 7.0 of 10.

May 22, 2016

Lewis and Clark in Saturday Night Live

The May 21 episode of SNL featured another of its comedic classroom experiences. This time, some terrible white actors performed a terrible "educational" skit about Lewis and Clark:



Comment:  In the phony historical "lesson," Lewis and Clark are mostly interested in sleeping with Sacagawea. She isn't opposed to this and at one point does a sexy dance.

The skit within the sketch is definitely racist, with Sacagawea as nothing but a sex object who speaks Tonto talk. The sketch itself is borderline racist as well.

On the one hand, the actors are supposed to be buffonish, so you're not supposed to take them seriously. On the other hand, the teacher encourages them and is moved to tears by their performance. Other than Sasheer Zamata's frowns, no one is really rejecting the lesson.

This leaves viewers unclear about how accurate the lesson is. Obviously Lewis and Clark didn't want to have a ménage à trois with anyone. But was Sacagawea a sexy and savage Indian princess? No, she was a teenage girl with a husband and a baby.

Call it another example of hipster racism. The sketch kind of mocks anti-Indian racism, but also kind of supports it. If you didn't know better, you might swallow some of its points.

Not funny

For fans of SNL, the sketch also was completely unfunny. Whether it was racist or not, it should've been axed for that reason alone.

It's a good bet Fred Armisen had something to do with its creation. He may be SNL's leading purveyor of racist stereotypes in the last decade.

How do stupid things like this sketch get on the air? Because ignorant white people, many of them liberals, control the airwaves.

For more on Saturday Night Live, see Anchor Babies in Saturday Night Live and Peyote, "Firewater" in Saturday Night Live

May 21, 2016

Review of Shades of Hiawatha

Shades of Hiawatha: Staging Indians, Making Americans, 1880-1930 1st Edition

By Alan Trachtenberg"A book of elegance, depth, breadth, nuance and subtlety." --W. Richard West Jr. (Founding Director of the National Museum of the American Indian), The Washington Post

A century ago, U.S. policy aimed to sever the tribal allegiances of Native Americans, limit their ancient liberties, and coercively prepare them for citizenship. At the same time, millions of new immigrants sought their freedom by means of that same citizenship. Alan Trachtenberg argues that the two developments were, inevitably, juxtaposed: Indians and immigrants together preoccupied the public imagination, and together changed the idea of what it meant to be American.

In Shades of Hiawatha, Trachtenberg eloquently suggests that we must re-create America's tribal creation story in new ways if we are to reaffirm its beckoning promise of universal liberty.

From Publishers Weekly
What does it mean to be an American? How was "Americanness" first conceived? In this fascinating study, Trachtenberg (Reading American Photographs) investigates the construction of the "American" by linking the experience of Native Americans in the late 19th century to the experiences of Eastern Europeans in the early 20th century. Ironically, the earliest Americans—the Indians—were first displaced from their own land—making them un-American—and then were offered the opportunity to become Americans by repurchasing that land and conforming to American values such as the ownership of private property. The overly mythologized image of Hiawatha, Trachtenberg argues, crystallizes the ways that American writers and American society made Indians almost invisible. In a similar way, the earliest European immigrants experienced a displacement from their own lands and a requirement to embrace American social and political values in order to become American citizens. In an exceptional final chapter, Trachtenberg juxtaposes the writings of Luther Standing Bear and Hart Crane to show how deeply the idea of being American was contested even in the early 20th century and to call for the inclusion of Native American identity in the ongoing struggle to define what it means to be an American. Although some of these ideas are not new, Trachtenberg's historical depth and lively prose make them extremely vivid.
A review by Paige Raibmon:Trachtenberg's method is to establish something of a taxonomy, holding up a wide array of cultural artifacts for display: poetry, theatre, travelogues, photography, and department store displays to name a few. Many of these were produced by well-known characters from the historical annals of American high culture: Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry James, and Edward Curtis to name a few. Others were produced by figures who will be less familiar to readers: Yehoash, the Russian poet who translated The Song of Hiawatha into Yiddish, and Joseph Kossuth Dixon, who led Indian "expeditions" for the Wanamaker department stores. The book is much more about these non-Indian "stagers" of Indians than about Indians themselves. Trachtenberg's interest lies in the implications of these cultural artifacts for Americanness rather than in their impact on Indian lives.Rob's review

The Shades of Hiawatha title is appropriate. The book is kind of about how Song to Hiawatha filtered into the public consciousness and helped defined who and what was considered American. The six chapters are kind of disjointed, but Trachtenberg tries to link things back to the play and what it represents.

I'm not sure he develops any deep or meaningful thesis--at least not one that I can summarize. But he explores some little-known areas of Native history, including the origins of Song of Hiawatha and the Wanamaker Expeditions. His writing is interesting enough that I give the book an 8.0 of 10, which is good for this kind of material.

May 17, 2016

Cornwallis statue is vandalized

Edward Cornwallis statue vandalized in downtown Halifax

Halifax council discussed this week whether to look into removing his name from city properties

By Cassie Williams
Cornwallis was a British military officer who founded Halifax in 1749 while he was governor of Nova Scotia. He also issued the so-called scalping proclamation the same year, in which he offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaq person.

Some have called for all commemorations of the man to be removed from the city. Others who oppose the move say that's akin to rewriting history.
Comment:  For more on Native-oriented monuments, see Artist Defends Scout Billboard and Quixotic Quest for The American.

May 15, 2016

Review of Hollywood's Indians

Hollywood's Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in FilmOffering both in-depth analyses of specific films and overviews of the industry's output, Hollywood's Indian provides insightful characterizations of the depiction of the Native Americans in film. This updated edition includes a new chapter on Smoke Signals, the groundbreaking independent film written by Sherman Alexie and directed by Chris Eyre. Taken as a whole the essays explore the many ways in which these portrayals have made an impact on our collective cultural life.

Editorial Reviews

"Raises interesting issues and challenges readers to consider the complex realities of American Indian cultures and Indian/non-Indian relations that major motion pictures often fail to communicate." ―American Graduate

"Important and groundbreaking work." ―Bookman News

"Enables readers to construct a cinematic chronology of the Hollywood Indian and to comprehend the larger cultural forces at work interpreting the Indian-white past on screen." ―Choice

"Rollins and O'Connor have skillfully blended a variety of thoughtful viewpoints." ―Chronicles of Oklahoma

"A collection of quality essays, put together by two of the leading experts in this particular topic area." ―Communication Booknotes Quarterly


Comment:  I read Hollywood's Indians and it's a solid academic-style book. Individual essays cover the usual milestones of 20th-century "Native" films: John Ford's movies, Broken Arrow, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, Little Big Man, Pow Wow Highway, Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, Pocahontas, Indian in the Cupboard, and Smoke Signals.

As with most anthologies, some of its essays are more compelling than others. And of course it doesn't address the independent Native filmmaking that's flourished since its 1999 publication date.

All in all, it's a useful but not essential book on Native-themed movies. Rob's rating: 7.0 of 10.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

May 13, 2016

Chief Runs With Paws

When "Chief Runs with Paws" is anything but cuteA description of the figurine on The Hamilton Collection's website reads: "Wearing his majestic ceremonial headdress with pride and casting an all-knowing, green-eyed stare your way, this adorable kitty is the chosen guardian of the spirt world."

Paul says these are just a bunch of buzzwords.

"They're using these words to make it sound magical and mystical and beautiful," she says. "They're buzzwords. They're sell-words to buy people into this idea of Native-ness—which is appropriation and not right."

May 06, 2016

Artist inserts himself in ledger paintings

An odd story about non-Native artist Scott Seekins. Among other things, he does ledger-style paintings and inserts himself into the scenes:

Scott Seekins' Great Sioux Uprising series draws ire from Native community

By Erica RiveraOver the weekend, backlash ignited on the show’s Facebook event page, where the header image, drawn in the style of ledger art, features Seekins in his signature white suit, hands raised. He is standing before a Native man on horseback who wears a headdress and is armed with a bow and arrows. A white soldier lies bleeding from the head on the ground, gun in hand.

In the discussion section of the event page, commenters have accused Seekins of cultural appropriation, calling the exhibition “problematic” and “tone-deaf.” Several people have requested via Facebook, email, and phone that the gallery cancel the show.
Gallery under fire over use of Native American imagery

Seekins says his doppelgänger is bearing witness to history. Others say he's glorifying himself at the expense of his subjects.

A couple of weeks later, the criticism continued:

“This is art about genocide” Native community pushes back against Scott Seekins

I agree with the critics. The paintings already "bear witness" to historical events. Seekins's insertion of himself doesn't improve the message or add value. A modern white guy sees a 150-year-old battle...so what?