Blog: The thing about skins
3.0: Skin night at the movies
By Gyasi Ross
Big role or large role, either way, my mom excitedly points them out and asks--“You know that he’s Indian, right?” Of course, mom; we used to have the video disc.
It's just a movie?
Why distinguish between a movie and a documentary, Gyasi? Documentaries have a point of view and are filtered through a filmmaker's biases. As we learned in our discussion of Wounded Knee, a fictional movie can be more accurate than a "nonfictional" documentary.
Heck, why distinguish between a movie and anything? A sports logo is just a sports logo. An advertisement is just an advertisement. A statue is just a statue. A school lesson is just a school lesson. A book is just a book.
Apparently Ross thinks that no one has ever formed an opinion of Indians based on mere words and images. No, Americans remain neutral and openminded about Indians until they meet one in the flesh. When they see and hear a real Indian, they conclude that Indians are just like everyone else.
Therefore, it's impossible for Americans to think Indians are savage, primitive, uncivilized, lazy, good-for-nothing, stoic, drunk, mystical, ecology-minded, noble, greedy, corrupt, or rich. Why? Because these things generally aren't true in reality and Americans don't know about Indians from any other source. No American has ever learned a Native stereotype from a movie or other form of media.
How naive and foolish can you get?
Pocahontas is "hot"?
"Hotness" is a pretty lame reason to like a Native character. So what if Pocahontas is hot? The issue is whether she's a reasonably accurate representation of the historical figure, not whether she's babe-alicious.
Seeing a Native on screen
Ross could buy or rent dozens of movies and TV shows if he wanted his nieces to see Native women on the screen. Try Dreamkeeper, Into the West, or The Emperor's New School for images of strong Native women. It's ridiculous to say we should accept Pocahontas because it's the only way Native girls can see themselves represented.
How about taking a nuanced position like mine? I like Pocahontas for its storytelling and artistry. I dislike it for its mistakes and stereotypes. I criticize the movie's problems but don't take them personally or get offended by them.
Pocahontas a role model?
And what about the 99% of the viewers who aren't Native girls? Does Ross have anything to say about them? Does he understand that non-Indian children are more unschooled and impressionable than adults like him?
Here are how some non-Indians reacted to Pocahontas. From Steve Harvey's column in the LA Times, c. 1995-96:
When a portrait of the Indian princess was shown, Sarah took one look at the somewhat plump, round-faced child and declared: "That is not Pocahontas."
During one commercial break, however, she exclaimed, "There they are," pointing triumphantly to the screen, where the voluptuous Indian maiden and surfer John were indeed frolicking. It was an ad for the animated movie.
Love it or protest it?
For more on the subject, see the Stereotype of the Month contest and The Best Indian Movies.
Below: "Girls, try to become thin and beautiful like me. Starve yourself, binge and purge, whatever it takes. If you do, I promise you'll find your Prince Charming."