January 25, 2007

Movie Indians = the "other"

No One Ever Sees Indians:  A Reflection on Native CinemaSince the beginning of the medium, Native Americans have been portrayed in films. Native American dancers were among the first and common feature in the first coin-operated cine-scope viewers of the late 1800's.

Yet, it was the image of the regalia outfitted Indians, clad in beads and feathers and buckskin, prominent in that time that has endured the longest. Assimilation and Termination policies very nearly rendered Native American people into a “vanishing race” and film companies never hesitated in promoting Natives as such.

For colonization to have worked it is needed to portray the targets of civilization as something not human, as the other, as a primitive species. This way, the cruelties inflicted are no more than clearing out mice to make space.

Which is why it remains the Native of the “Old West” that has endured for so long. This image continually renders the Native American voice powerless as it perpetuates the idea Native Americans are still less than, are still the other.


Anonymous said...

That looks like an image of John Wayne from "Red River", another one of those "vanishing race" vehicles where Indians are getting in the way of Westward expansion. I hate those Westerns that portray Indians not as a vital, thriving and important culture base, but as a violent nuisance. It's extremely insensitive film making and another ugly blemish covered up to romanticize the cruel truth.

Rob said...

I don't know where the Wayne image comes from, so I'll take your word for it.

Even if Wayne didn't kill many Indians on-screen, he personifies the cowboy archetype. In many people's minds, he personifies America. That's why he was the nation's No. 1 box-office star long after his moviemaking prime.

Anonymous said...

"It is as though they merely are spear-carriers in the story of their own demise."

You know, the other night I saw this movie and was impressed, for once:


Being Canadian, and calling to mind the history of Chief Donnacona's kidnapping, and that of his sons Dom Agaya and Taignogny, and how they must have felt with the European intrusion and subterfuge - I felt this was a very sensitive portrayal and also very deep.

Q'orianka Kilcher's Pocahontas is hauntingly beautiful. Sometimes true visionaries speak through the medium of film.

Rob said...

See New World, Old Myth for lots of reviews of The New World, including mine.