May 30, 2007

Bury My Heart's bias against Indians

The most notable thing in HBO's version of Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee isn't the writing, acting, or directing. All these things are passable in this flawed but watchable movie. What stands out is the anti-Indian bias.

How is that possible in a production based on one of the most pro-Indian books ever? Read on for the evidence against the movie.

Bury My Heart's Bias Against Indians

13 comments:

russell said...

Writerfella here --
writerfella's own views of BURY MY HEART... are that it mostly was a pedestrian presentation of filmic Native 'history' that will be up for awards come Emmy season. Aidan Quinn was a one-note, one-dimensional Sen. Henry Dawes who more was a vocal embodiment of Manifast Destiny than a character afflicted by both conscience and evil at one and the same time. Fred Thompson as Pres. Ulysses Grant had better pay for that ad for his own real-life Presidential hopes or he likely will run afoul of fairness and access statutes. J.K. Simmons as the Indian Agent McLaughlin has seen better days as LAW & ORDER's police psychologist and as SpiderMan's boss, J. Jonah Jameson. Anna Paquin drifted through the whole film, frowning and glancing around as if she half-expected Harvey Keitel to walk up naked. August Schellenburgh as a Canadian played Sioux Chief Sitting Bull as if he were witnessing the events around him for the first time and that sort of worked. Adam Beach, another Canadian, as the non-historical viewpoint character Charles Eastman varied from his usual 'aw, shucks' goofy grins to genuine astonishment and even that sort of worked.
But the best scene for writerfella came when Sitting Bull argued with Gen. Miles (Shaun Johnston) about the Black Hills being the land of the Sioux (ahistorical of course but based on known historical facts). Siting Bull claimed it had been their land for centuries but Miles told him no, you came from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and then drove out the Kiowa and the Pawnee (among other tribes).
Up to then, no one in film had so emphatically (and correctly) flown in the face of Sioux claims to the Black Hills, though writerfella as a Kiowan long has known that the Sioux very much were latecomers to the area. To writerfella, that moment was worth the entire movie!
It had a nice beat, and was easy to Ghost Dance to. writerfella gives it a 75...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I've noted twice that Sitting Bull's debate with Colonel Miles was a key exchange. That's because producer Dick Wolf said it was so important he fought to keep it in the screenplay. A few critics also remarked that it was the high point of the film.

As I wrote in my analysis, it was a prime indicator of the movie's goal to diminish Indians. So what if the Sioux were as rapacious as the Americans? The Indian Wars weren't the US vs. the Sioux, they were the US vs. hundreds of tribes, most of them peaceful.

Incidentally, Miles didn't say the Sioux drove the Kiowa out. He said the Sioux exterminated the Kiowa. Either the movie falsified history or you're dead and don't know it yet.

Exposing the Sioux shouldn't have been the point of Bury My Heart. It certainly wasn't the point of Dee Brown's book. Wolf and company used the book as a pretext to push their own agenda.

Ironically, I gave the movie a 7.5 of 10, which corresponds to your 75 of 100. Great minds think alike? Or a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day?

Rob said...

Comment from a Oglala Lakota Sioux tribal member:

I read the ENTIRE article and totally agree. I honestly thought I was the only one who didn't like it. After all the "hype" with the premiere in Rapid City and all the rave reviews you see on tv....I was upset that our own Native American Indian actors actually took on these roles. Makes you think that they are selling out. Taking on roles without the history, without the "real" knowledge of who set the precedent for Native American People. But maybe it's just 'acting,' maybe it's just 'a' story. Either way, I will not sit and waste my time watching it again. Thank you for posting that! I really enjoyed it!

Rob said...

Let's note that we can't be sure what the actors were thinking. They may have taken the job based on an early version of the script. The producers may have made promises to them about beefing up their characters. The director and editor may have left scenes that rounded out the story on the cutting-room floor. Etc.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Stuff and nonsense! writerfella quite clearly denoted August Schellenburg as CANADIAN and if you do not recognize schisms among Natives about current nationalities, you have missed a great many cogent points. Plus, the point made by Miles in the film was that TITLE TO THE BLACK HILLS FOR THE KIOWA HAD BEEN EXTERMINATED BY THE SIOUX, not that the Kiowa had been exterminated. The man spoke quite in agreement with the EuroMan view that occupation of land constitutes TITLE. Geez, how many times can people look into a mirror of history and miss seeing their own faces?
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

russell said...

Writerfella here --
POSTSCRIPTUM: oh, and Rob, sometimes minds, great or not, do think alike, but as our 'agreement' portends, it usually differs by factors of ten. You as a EuroMan have a clock, writerfella as a Native has the Great Sundial of the Anasazi. Sundials never stop...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I didn't say anything about Schellenberg's nationality or performance, so your comments on these subjects are irrelevant. You also spelled Schellenberg's name wrong twice. Oops.

Spare us your misunderstanding of Miles's comments. The gist of the exchange was about how predatory the Sioux were against other tribes. It was crystal-clear to anyone who was paying attention.

Miles referred to half a dozen tribes located in the southern Plains that never had "title" to the Black Hills. Why would he mention these tribes and not those of the northern Plains (e.g., the Cheyenne, Crow, or Blackfeet) if his primary focus was ownership of the Black Hills? It does not compute.

Below is the quote as rendered by the New York Times. I'm pretty sure Miles said "exterminated" rather than "massacred," but "massacred" makes my point better than "exterminated" does. You can "exterminate" a title, I guess, but you can't massacre it.

Here, read it and weep:

“No matter what your legends say, you didn’t sprout from the plains like the spring grasses and you didn’t coalesce out of the ether. You came out of the Minnesota woodlands armed to the teeth and set upon your fellow man. You massacred the Kiowa, the Omaha, the Ponca, the Oto and the Pawnee without mercy. And yet you claim the Black Hills as a private preserve bequeathed to you by the Great Spirit.”

"Set upon your fellow man" immediately precedes "massacred" (or "exterminated"), thus proving the line was about killing people. Nice try, but you lose. Better luck next time.

This is why I'm a critic while you're merely a viewer: because I have critical abilities that you apparently don't. Unless you record the show or obtain a transcript, I suggest you don't try to second-guess my statements. You'll only end up looking foolish, as you did this time.

Rob said...

Incidentally, sundials don't work at night or on overcast days. In other words, they're useless more than half the time. If you're trying to say you're more wrong than right, I won't argue. ;-)

russell said...

Writerfella here --
You are mistaken: sundials work in the mind at night or during clouds and storm as time is an environmental characteristic to Natives, not a god. And it probably took August Schellenburg half his life to learn to spell his own name right himself. What ever became of his brother, July?
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

Sundials work "in the mind"?! Broken clocks work in the mind also. So do cold fusion experiments and perpetual motion machines. Catch my drift?

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Ah, now you step over into writerfella's bailiwick! Cold fusion works -- it simply does not work well at all in a gravity environment. In orbital freefall, cold fusion operates quite well, thank you, as science is on the verge of verifying that cold fusion underlies dark matter and other natural processes in the operation of the universe as a 'perpetual motion machine' of the first order. Ask Stephen Hawking and he will reply, "How did you get this information?!?!"
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

So you have a mystical sense of time, eh? Do you also have keen animal senses, innate tracking abilities, and an inherent oneness with Nature?

In other words, are you a walking, talking Indian cliché? If so, I wouldn't brag about it if I were you. ;-)

Leslie said...

Hiya Rob-I am a frequent visitor of blue corn comics, and I assume you may have already seen this press release for this event...if not this excerpt showing who they will give the building bridges throughmedia award to is pretty effed up....seems like some kind of desperation on the part of Native Voice Media to choose the least offensive or most visible native portrayals in media in the past year.
"The Native Voice Media Awards, hosted by actress Q'orianka Kilcher ("Pocahantas," THE NEW WORLD), will be in the NCAI General Assembly Hall (Hyatt Grand Ballroom) on Monday night, November 12 at 8:00 PM. The keynote speaker will be living legend Wilma Mankiller, who will also be receiving the "Native Voice Media Leadership" award for 2007. The six Native Voice Media Awards for 2007 are "Leadership" – Wilma Mankiller, "Education" – Oglala Lakota College, "Mainstream Journalism" – C-SPAN, "Empowerment" – NIKE Native American Business, "Building Bridges Through Media" – HBO for "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," and "Native Innovator" – Chris Eyre. "

If you wish to get the full release it can probably be googled from it's title: Native Voice Film Festival & Media Awards '07 to Showcase Films, Stars, Filmmakers and Honorees at HYATT Convention Center in downtown DENVER, Nov. 11-14
in conjunction with National Congress of American Indians Annual Conference
(or email me lmanoart@gmail.com to get the full release)

Asquali, thanks for all your posts!! Mano (Leslie)