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.
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.