And even when Native actors are used, things frequently aren’t quite right. As Graham Greene, who is Oneida, points out, he had to learn Lakota for his role in “Dances With Wolves,” even though he can’t speak his own language.
The documentary “Reel Injuns” by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond explores that dynamic as well as that of “adopted” Indians who plays into the whole “white savior” myth. Diamond frequently handles this with humor, although the hurt shines through.
Check out the movie’s Web site, which features comments by Native actors and activists Wes Studi and Russell Means.
As both site and the trailer show, most of these movies purport to be about Indians, but are really about white people, with Native Americans as the supporting cast:
Think of Lieutenant Dunbar (Kevin Costner) in “Dances with Wolves”’; Hawkeye (Daniel Day Lewis) in “The Last of the Mohicans,” and John Morgan (Richard Harris) in “A Man Called Horse.”
“Reel Injun” opens in theaters in Canada Feb. 19. Can’t wait till it crosses the border to the States.
Comment: Daniel Day-Lewis played a woodsman similar to an Indian, of course, not an Indian. His character Hawkeye wasn't a white man who took over a story supposedly about Indians. The Last of The Mohicans was always about Hawkeye first and the Mohicans second.
I'm not sure there's anything new to say on the subject of Indians in movies. People have done many books and documentaries on the subject already. Hollywood's portrayal of Indians has been stereotypical, racist, and wrong. Case closed.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies and Native Documentaries and News.