March 29, 2009

Wampanoag POV in We Shall Remain

Neither nobles nor savages

In the five-part series 'We Shall Remain,' WGBH aims to put Native Americans at the center of the American experienceActors playing Pilgrims, bearing the heat beneath thick woolen coats, milled about a table set with berries and nuts. Native Americans in traditional garb lounged near a rental truck, waiting to be called into action.

Their task: to re-create the first Thanksgiving for "American Experience," the public-television history series produced by WGBH. But this retelling--part of the upcoming series "We Shall Remain"--would be different from other Thanksgiving stories. It would be told from the point of view of Massasoit, the Wampanoag leader who made the risky choice to forge an alliance with the British colonists of Plymouth.

And it would end with a pointed question about whether Massasoit might have regretted his decision, since the trust he built with the colonists wouldn't last to the next generation. Among the props on the set was a model of a human head: Massasoit's son, King Philip, which the colonists would later impale on a stick.
A few examples of how using actual Indians led to greater authenticity:Spears started out as an extra for the film, alongside his son, but took on a larger role after he started critiquing the details on the set. On the Salem shoot, he adjusted the size of the native's feather pieces, and clarified how Massasoit would have shaken the pilgrims' hands, grasping their wrists, not their palms.

Nipmuc tribe member David White, 36, a Brimfield resident and electrician by trade, was the episode's language adviser, reviewing the scripts for both dialect and meaning. (In real life, White does his part to keep the Nipmuc language alive, teaching it to small groups of Native Americans in their homes, and sharing Nipmuc culture with schools and Cub Scout troops.)

In a scene in which a gravely ill Massasoit gets a visit from Pilgrim leader Edward Winslow, White asked producers to cut a line in which Massasoit said "My friend, I'll never see you again." Native Americans don't see death as an end, White said, but as part of a life cycle.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Massasoit Statue in Utah and The Best Indian Movies.

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