February 22, 2009

Indians at the 2009 Oscars

Alas, Frozen River didn't get either of the two Oscars it was nominated for. No surprise there--in fact, no surprises anywhere in the Academy Awards ceremony. Almost every winner was predicted correctly weeks ago.

The show itself was a bust. Patrick Goldstein and Mary McNamara summed up my reactions to it pretty well. But there were a few things worth mentioning.

First, it was a surprisingly multicultural event--perhaps the most diverse Oscar ceremony ever. There was a slew of black presenters and performers: Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg, Halle Berry, Cuba Gooding Jr., Queen Latifah, Beyoncé, et al. Penelope Cruz represented Hispanics and a couple of Japanese guys won. Because of Slumdog Millionaire's success, there were lots of moments featuring (Asian) Indians. And there were several shout-outs to the gay community.

What about the (American) Indians?

There were even a few moments featuring American Indians. If you blinked, here's what you missed:

  • Eight seconds of Misty Upham during a film clip for Courtney Hunt's Frozen River screenplay.

  • Six or seven seconds of Saginaw Grant as a Mojave Indian in a MasterCard commercial.

  • Jessica Biel, who is part Indian, describing the Sci-Tech awards given at an earlier ceremony. Wikipedia says she "has Native American (Choctaw), German, French, English and Irish ancestry."

  • Introducing the postproduction phase of moviemaking, Hugh Jackman said, "Francois Truffaut once likened a production of a movie to taking a stagecoach through the Wild West. At first, he said, you hope for a nice ride. And then you just hope to reach your destination."

  • "Stagecoach" means savages

    For some reason this reminded me of President Obama's "settling the West" comment. You know what happened in the most famous stagecoach ride in history--in John Ford's movie Stagecoach? A "wild" Indian attack, of course.

    Imagine if Jackman had said this instead:

    "Francois Truffaut once likened a production of a movie to taking a drive through Detroit. At first, he said, you hope for a nice ride. And then you just hope to reach your destination."

    Or,

    "Francois Truffaut once likened a production of a movie to taking a drive through a Muslim country. At first, he said, you hope for a nice ride. And then you just hope to reach your destination."

    Talk about politically incorrect. I'm guessing a few people might've gasped at these comments. But no one thinks twice about labeling the "Wild West" a dangerous place. Because we all "know" it was inhabited by murderous Indians. We know it because we saw it in Oscar-winning movies like Stagecoach.

    Summing it up

    Despite this ill-conceived moment, I can't complain about a minute or so of air time for Indians. Most years you don't see Indians at all.

    I don't know if Indians have appeared in Oscar film clips recently. Perhaps Adam Beach in Flags of Our Fathers or the Maya in Apocalypto? The last time we probably saw an Indian was in 1996 when Pocahontas won Oscars for Best Score and Best Song.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    6 comments:

    dmarks said...

    ""Francois Truffaut once likened a production of a movie to taking a drive through Detroit. At first, he said, you hope for a nice ride. And then you just hope to reach your destination."

    Michigan would have loved the shout-out. We sell T shirts with slogans like "I'm so bad I vacation in Detroit".

    Stephen said...

    " But no one thinks twice about labeling the "Wild West" a dangerous place. Because we all "know" it was inhabited by murderous Indians. We know it because we saw it in Oscar-winning movies like Stagecoach."

    Not necessarily; stagecoaches were also attacked and robbed by outlaws, so it wasn't an anti-Indian joke. Now if I had used the words 'take a ride through Indian territory' then yeah I'd agree with you.

    Rob said...

    I know outlaws also attacked stagecoaches. I believe they did it much more often than Indians did.

    But Truffaut was a John Ford fan and probably loved Stagecoach, which features an Indian attack. Therefore, I suspect he meant to implicate Indians.

    Besides, Jackman was speaking about movies to moviemaking professionals. It would surprise me if they didn't connect his comments with the most famous stagecoach ride in cinematic history.

    Rob said...

    A quote about what people think in general about Indians:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/oakley/peopleevents/e_show.html

    [The Wild West] show's depictions of Indians reinforced an inaccurate notion held by white Americans. In Cody's Wild West, the Indians were always the aggressors; attacking wagon trains, settlers' cabins, and Custer's forces. The reality was quite different; attacks on settlers' wagons had been quite rare, and it was the whites who kept breaking treaties with the Indians, not the other way around.

    Anonymous said...

    "I know outlaws also attacked stagecoaches. I believe they did it much more often than Indians did."

    Personally when I think of a stagecoach attack an outlaw raid comes to mind but that's just me.

    "But Truffaut was a John Ford fan and probably loved Stagecoach, which features an Indian attack."

    That isn't exactly hard proof of an anti-Indian bias.

    "Therefore, I suspect he meant to implicate Indians."

    Then why didn't he use the words 'Indian territory'? Or at least 'a stagecoach ride through savage country' or something like that?

    "Besides, Jackman was speaking about movies to moviemaking professionals. It would surprise me if they didn't connect his comments with the most famous stagecoach ride in cinematic history."

    True but my point is that it's too much of a subjective comment to be called an anti-Indian remark.

    Rob said...

    I presume Jackman didn't use the words "Indian territory" because he was quoting Truffaut. As for why Truffaut didn't mention Indians, perhaps he was speaking to John Ford fans who understood what he meant. Or perhaps he was speaking to a liberal crowd that wouldn't have appreciated an anti-Indian slur.

    Why do people ever say things obliquely? Because if they said things bluntly, they'd get criticized for it. Ambiguous statements let people insinuate things without taking responsibility for them.

    Hence you have McCain calling Obama "that one." Or Palin calling her supporters "good Americans." When people use coded language, it's up to us to decode it.