January 09, 2008

The best Indian movies?

What Makes a Film...well..."Native"?I can tell you this much. A Native walking across the screen doesn’t make a film Native. Showing sweeping landscapes with tipis, tomahawks and soaring eagles doesn’t make a film Native. An Indian storyline told from a non-Indian point of view doesn’t make a film Native. Tom toms and flutes and New Age spirituality don’t make a film Native.

No matter how cute Natalie Wood looks in braids and brown makeup or how much you enjoy a glimpse of Costner’s hienie, you just can’t fake it. No matter how good or lousy, Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Broken Arrow, The New World, Apocalypto, and Flags of Our Fathers are not it.

They are what they are—classics, laughably awful, screamingly mediocre—and not “Native.” Not then, not now, not ever.
Comment:  I've included all these movies in my discussion of The Best Indian Movies. That's because I'm willing to include movies about but not by Natives.

Of course, movies by Natives are the only truly Native movies. And these movies tend to be better than their non-Native counterparts. But movies by non-Natives sometimes succeed. I'd say Dances with Wolves and Thunderheart are better than The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat) or The Doe Boy, for instance. What they lack in authenticity they make up in artistry.

And what about the gray areas: the hybrid films? Christmas in the Clouds was produced by non-Native Kate Montgomery but co-produced by Sheila Tousey. Imprint was written and directed by non-Native Michael Linn but produced by Chris Eyre. The PBS Hillerman movies and Edge of America were directed by Chris Eyre but written and produced by non-Natives.

These days, the line between Native and non-Native movies is blurred. Most non-Native takes on Native stories have some degree of Native participation. And every Native-themed movie says something about the state of Native America. We may learn only how non-Natives perceive Natives, but that's useful information.

For my purposes, therefore, it's best to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Others can opt to be purists, but not me. In a multicultural world, we need to look at multicultural products and see what they tell us.

4 comments:

russell said...

Writerfella here --
The item seems thoughtful, cogent, and even informed until, that is, one realizes that questions are being asked for which no answers are provided. It's like asking, 'Is Pluto a planet or is it not?' and then including nothing about the controversial decision of the astronomical scientific community. One simply says it isn't and then lards in opinions as to why it isn't. An obscure 'contest' only can result in an article that itself is obscure (and obfuscatory!). writerfella says it had a nice beat and was easy to ghost dance to, so he gives it a 75...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I notice you've never defined what makes a movie Native. As usual, you're criticizing someone else's work rather than doing your own.

Since you consider Burt Reynolds a Native actor, I guess you'd deem Smokey and the Bandit a Native movie. If not, then what?

russell said...

Writerfella here --
But aren't the main tradition/modus operandi in this blog to do that very thing? When in Rome,...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

What very thing? Criticizing someone else's work rather than doing my own? No, I'm creating my own stories that (I hope) are stereotype-free. If I need a justification for criticizing other people's stories, which I don't, there it is.