January 20, 2011

Diamond on Hollywood Indians

Q&A:  ‘Reel Injun’ Director Neil Diamond

By ICTMN Staff

Neil Diamond, director of Reel Injun, talks about those “classic westerns” and Jack Sparrow as Tonto
Were there any films that got it right?
No. There hasn’t been an accurate story told about that time. Little Big Horn, the Sioux—there have been so many movies made but none of them get the story right. It would be great to make a film that told what it was really like for the Sioux. That was one of Marlon Brando’s great regrets. In an interview near the end of his life, he said that he had a film about Native Americans he was trying to get made that nobody would touch. He had the script and everything, but nobody would fund it.

What’s the most common way Hollywood mis-portrayed Native Americans?
The spiritual elder who is always so serious. If you talk to spiritual leaders, they use humor. They joke around. If you’re in a sweat lodge, they’ll be telling jokes. But in the movies the Indians were always scowling and deadly serious. The first time I saw a native actor laugh it was Chief Dan George in Little Big Man. I remember thinking, I have never seen a native actor laugh, ever.

What do you think about Johnny Depp playing Tonto?
I think it’s an interesting choice. I spoke with Adam Beach, who auditioned for the role, and he says the part is very different from the TV character. The character of Tonto is more of a storyteller, teacher and wise man, not so much a sidekick. I’m excited to see what Johnny Depp does with it.

Which brings us back to non-natives playing Native Americans. Do you have a favorite?
I think it has to be Rock Hudson in Taza, Son of Cochise. I mean, Rock Hudson as an Apache!
Comment:  Depp may be an interesting choice, but he's not necessarily a good choice or the right choice. His approach sounds similar to the approach taken by the TV movie a few years ago.

For more on the subject, see Any Change Since Dances with Wolves? and McMurtry to Malign Comanches Again?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think one of the biggest problems is the "always chaotic evil" treatment. Some of my floormates play D&D. In it, there are classes which always have a certain alignment: Rogues are always chaotic something, paladins and clerics are always lawful good, druids are always at least half neutral, and so on. This makes sense. But there are also certain races that are always a certain alignment. This doesn't make sense. But it's used in Hollywood too. Even Dances with Wolves has always chaotic evil Pawnee, while the Sioux are always chaotic good.