By Roscoe Pond
Those statistics are not good. It is now 2010 and still there are no lead acting roles for native men or women on primetime television. The same can be said of no lead characters in major studio films.
Movie executives care only about money and top box office receipts. Network TV cares only about top ratings. Where would the Native American fit in on all of this? They don't. They have never had a chance to be "tested" in any lead roles on TV. Sponsors would never buy advertising of a TV show with a lead native actor or actress. The reason is clear. The public only wants to see Native Americans in "buckskins" and "loincloths." That's why the mini-series, "Into the West" (2005) and "Comanche Moon" (2008) produced good TV ratings. Both are westerns.
I think Pond's analysis is correct as far as it goes. But let's discuss it further.
If movie executives care only about money, why aren't they rushing to do movies with Native themes or actors? The biggest hits of the last year are Avatar and New Moon. Why isn't some exec saying, "Let's combine Avatar and New Moon! A wolfish Native soldier fights blue-skinned alien vampires...it's a guaranteed hit!"
Answer: Because Hollywood, like much of America, is culturally conservative. Which is another way of saying it's prejudiced against minorities. Minorities such as, say, Barack Obama, whom a significant number of Americans believe is a Kenyan and a Muslim.
As Pond said, people want to see stereotypical Indians. (Or think they do until movies like Avatar and New Moon prove them wrong.) Indians like the ones in countless old Westerns, sports logos, statues and paintings, and on and on.
They get angry when someone tells them the reality contradicts their fantasies. That Indians are doctors, lawyers, and teachers, not half-naked warriors on horseback. They insist they're "honoring" Indians by asserting their stupid and stereotypical beliefs are more important than the facts.
So Hollywood cares only about money, but ignores the fact that Natives make money when given half a chance. So money can't be what's holding Native actors back. What's holding them back is the racist attitudes shared by studio execs and other Americans.
Racism, not profits
No other explanation makes sense. And why would anyone even look for another explanation? Studio execs come from the same population that worships stereotypical mascots and gets angry at modern museums. They love their racist beliefs about Indians.
These Americans aren't championing stereotypes because it's profitable. They're championing stereotypes because they've been brainwashed since childhood to believe our foundational myth. Columbus, Pilgrims, and Founding Fathers good! Indians, blacks, and immigrants bad! Taming the wild frontier! Progress and civilization! God bless America!
With that cultural mindset, the idea of a movie or TV show starring modern-day Indians causes cognitive dissonance. Most executives can't imagine it, and they can't imagine audiences imagining it. So they trot out their money-making excuses--e.g., the fallacy of the big-name actor--to avoid greenlighting Native projects. So no Twilight until Stephenie Meyer forces the issue and no Avatar until James Cameron forces the issue.
Translating from Hollywood-speak to English, what these execs are really saying is, "When I grew up, Indians were savages. My parents and teachers believed it, I believe it, and everyone I know believes it. Therefore, we won't make a movie with Native themes or actors unless it's a Western. No one would believe in modern-day Indians as soldiers, astronauts, or vampire fighters. The movie would fail and I'd be unemployed like some lazy, drunken wretch of an Indian."
In short, it's all about Hollywood's racism, not its quest for profits. Get it now?
For more on the subject, see Roscoe Pond or a Big-Name Actor? and Producer Says No to Pond. For more on the subject in general, see The Best Indian Movies and TV Shows Featuring Indians.
Below: The only acceptable Indians (from Comanche Moon).