Here's a helpful guide to understanding movie portrayals of Friday in adaptations of Robinson Crusoe. It's especially helpful for people who can't decode race in movie productions. (People like Kiowa writer Russell Bates.)
If Friday has the racial characteristics of black people, the moviemakers obviously made him black. In that case, he's a tribesman on an African island or an escaped slave on an African or Latin American island.
If the island is located off the African coast, Friday is obviously black. If it's a Latin American island, he may be black or Indian.
If the story is transplanted to the South Seas, Friday is obviously Polynesian.
If Friday is wearing the characteristic garb of South Sea islanders--grass skirts, sarongs, shells, flowers--he's Polynesian. If the scenery includes palm trees, tiki idols, coral atolls, or other South Seas indicators, he's Polynesian.
If Friday is played by a white or Latino actor, he's probably an Indian.
If he's wearing a loincloth or headband, he's probably an Indian.
If he has a bowl-shaped head of straight black hair, he's probably an Indian.
See the previous sections for the exceptions to these rules.
From what I've seen while researching the subject, black actors have played Friday only recently. Before that, whites or Latinos played him.
White and Latino actors have often played Indians. It's a common conceit: a black-haired guy in a loincloth is what the mainstream deems an Indian. So any white or Latino actor playing Friday was undoubtedly supposed to be an Indian. The only exceptions would've been adaptations explicitly set in the South Seas.
Again, from what I've seen, Friday has been black, Polynesian, and Indian perhaps a third of the time each. I wouldn't be surprised if the Indian portrayals predominated, especially in the early years. Russell Bates's claim that movies have never portrayed Friday as an Indian is flatly false.
As a typical example, consider the 2003 version made for French TV. Nicolas Cazalé, a French Caucasian with an Algerian grandmother and dark good looks, played Friday. The series was filmed in Cuba. The image below shows him lightly tanned. His hairstyle and earrings are characteristic of Caribbean and Amazon Indians.
If the story takes place in the Caribbean and Friday isn't black, which indigenous race do you think he is? Australian aborigine? Finnish Sami? Mideast Bedouin? Alaskan Inuit? Japanese Ainu? No. Logically, he has to be an Indian.
Such casting decisions get made all the time. The French probably chose a Mediterranean Caucasian to play Friday because they didn't have any Native actors handy. They could've conducted an expensive search for a Native actor 10,000 miles away, but instead they hired someone nearby to play Friday. Even if he didn't look like the Indian he was playing.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.
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