June 19, 2010

Mystical Indians in Jonah Hex

The Jonah Hex movie is out and so are the reviews. The critics have overwhelmingly savaged it, giving it a measly 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This suggests it's one of the worst movies of the year.

The following review is typical:

"Jonah Hex":  Hard-boiled heavy-metal idiocy

Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Megan Fox's impossible waist can't save a messy screen version of the DC comic

By Andrew O'Hehir
The movie goes like this: Jonah shows up someplace, apparently teleporting from Nevada mining camps to New Orleans to rural Georgia (journeys that would take weeks in the 1870s). He mutters incomprehensibly at someone out of the corner of his disfigured mouth and then starts shooting people with his Gatling gun, or his automatic crossbow, or his dynamite revolver. (OK, that one is kind of cool.) How-de-dow-de-dow, go the guitars.

Then he gets badly hurt, or pretty nearly kilt, and the Crow Indian medicine men, muttering "Not this guy again!" in their native tongue, have to dance around and chant and rub oregano on his wounds, causing Jonah to barf up an actual, living crow. (Get it? Get it? Oh, you're right, there's nothing to get.) Then it's back to sultry Megan in the New Orleans whorehouse, although all they do is smooch a little in artfully backlit shots, possibly because this is a PG-13 title and possibly because sexual intercourse might cause her to snap in half at that architecturally improbable 20-inch waist.
I gather the Indians give Hex the power to speak to the dead and survive near-fatal wounds. He doesn't have this power in the comic books, where he's a straightforward bounty hunter.

The Crow and a crow

So the Apache Indians in the comic books have become Crow Indians in the movie. Why? For the visual pun of the crow in the mouth, I guess, and no other reason.

Of course, this is based on a mistake, since the Crow don't have anything to do with crows. Here's the story of their name:

Crow NationThe name of the tribe, Apsáalooke (IPA: [əpsaːloːke]), was translated into French by interpreters as gens du corbeaux (people of [the] crows). It means "children of the large-beaked bird," a name given by their neighboring tribe, the Hidatsa. The bird, perhaps now extinct, was defined as a fork-tailed bird resembling the blue jay or magpie.I sure hope these characters didn't make it into the movie:

Crow Indians who look like giant crows? Indians as semi-human beast men? Say it ain't so.

Even if these figures appear in a vision, it isn't cool. The Crow simply aren't associated with crows. Similarly, the Blackfeet don't have black feet, the Creek don't live by a creek, and the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) don't drive Winnebagos.

Magical mystery tour

I don't know if the Indians do anything exceptionally savage in Jonah Hex. It seems the filmmakers have gone for supernatural and otherworldly rather than brutal and bloodthirsty. Either way, it sounds stereotypical.

Jonah Hex gives us a glimpse into the Hollywood mindset. The filmmakers didn't take the Indians seriously. They used Julia Jones and Asian actors, changed the Apache to Crow, and gave them the power to raise the dead. They didn't take the rest of the West seriously either. The movie probably will fail because of its lack of authenticity.

Fortunately, few people will see this stinker. I don't plan to see it either. Let the latest example of magical Indians die a well-deserved death.

For more on the subject, see Alan Eaglewolf on Jonah Hex and Jonathan Joss on Jonah Hex.


Unknown said...

Holy Crap -- will it EVER stop?! Rob thanks so much for all of the work that you do exposing these racist nut jobs. BTW - your writings are superb.

Anonymous said...

What is with the mess that Twilight casting of non-natives (the ones with the most on-screen time in human form) Taylor and Boo Boo, and of course they did it with kids so that when we, the Native Americans are appauled, we look like the "bad guys" for "attacking children" HOW PATHETIC!

What is Julia Jones deal...she's claiming Native and if she in any way is, she certainly has no affection for her ancestry, whatever it is, or honor. "Actors have to take whatever roles they can get" my a..

"Unbound Captives” next, and the use of Robert P in it, you've got to be kidding, when will the "Twilight" pathetic nonsense and its people attached to it back off of our community completely! The movie would have Robert P. speaking "nearly entirely in Comanche" Hollywood strikes again, and it's time to strike back.

John Lees said...

I'm a big "Jonah Hex" fan, and have every issue of the comic since the Palmiotti/Gray relaunch. But even I have very little interest in seeing this film.

I could be wrong, but I just get a bad feeling from the trailers, like it's just not gonna get the tone of the comics at all, and is just going to be cringingly bad. It's a shame too, as Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Michael Fassbender are great actors.

dmarks said...

The crow-guys are an example of can-toi.

Rob said...


Can-toi? A lot of mythologies have human/animal hybrids. But unless Crow-men are part of Crow lore, this is a cultural mistake.

Rob said...

Alan Eaglewolf, a Native actor on the Jonah Hex set, fills us in:

Also as you have seen from past photos, none of the birdmen made it. They were talking on set about the rush to get the bird heads made and completed and the amount of time working nonstop around the clock to get these completed. Seems like a lot of work for nothing.

They searched for Native American extras and not one made it in any scene. The scene inside the tipi were Hollywood actors that they had brought in. They were the only ones that made it in the film and it was so quick, you can't even recognize them.

I can't believe they didn't even show any of the village that was set up. Lots of time, money and resources went into this Native village scene and it was cut out of the whole film.