TRUE GRIT--Good Or Bad
By Morten Krogh
There are 4 Native Americans in the whole movie and only one of them actually has any lines...and he dies within the first four minutes. And all but one of the Native Americans are abused and said abuse is played for big laughs.
We know that John Wayne was a racist, after reading all his comments about what he thought about the Native Americans, but I really don't understand why the Coen brothers had to use those scenes. What is noticeable about the film however is that these are the only appearances of Native Americans despite the fact that it takes place largely in Choctaw territory against the background of the wars made famous by Andrew Jackson’s genocidal "Trail of Tears."
I do understand that this is very consistent with the genre and the time period, but the Coens could have handled these three scenes with a little more care and consideration.
Just to let you understand. Would you say it's OK to use the Holocaust, the deportation and mass murder of the Jews and what happened to them and then use this story in a funny scene just to make people laugh about it. No I don't think so.
Here is something I saw on a blog about the movie. Read it and tell me what you think.
Film Review: True Grit
I really don't know if the Coen brothers think too much about Native American issues. I wish someone could send them a shocking statistics about contemporary violence against Native Americans, or the incredibly high suicide rate among Native American adolescents, or the high levels of depression, alcoholism and drug dependency. But would it help? I really don't know.
Just try to imagine that you are in this scene. Native American prisoner finds when he attempts to deliver his final words alongside other condemned men: a hood is pulled over his head before he can finish speaking.
During the opening part of the movie where the three men are about to be hanged, two of them get their final speech, then a Native American become interrupted when he's about to give his speech and than immediately hanged the next second. The history is repeating itself.
Here are some comments I have seen on internet:
"If I could just say one thing..."
*Bag over head*
Whole theater busted out laughing. Kinda phuked up laughing at NAs.
Comment: I imagine scenes like this happened in the Old West, so they're not wrong for that reason. A better question is whether the scenes were in the source material: the True Grit book. Then there might be some justification for including them.
Even if that were the case, we'd have to ask more questions. For instance, were the scenes integral to the story? Did the book play them for laughs?
Ultimately the blame falls back on the Coen brothers. When adapting a book into a movie, you have to choose which scenes to include. And how to play them. Even if the Coens filmed the scenes exactly as written in the book, it was their choice to do it that way.
Regardless of where the ideas originated, the Coens thought it was a good idea to show Indians kicked and hanged. They could've filmed the scenes so the audience empathized with the Indians. They could've shown characters reacting negatively to the incidents. But apparently they didn't. Apparently they thought encouraging audiences to laugh at injured or dead Indians was a good idea.
A metaphor for Hollywood
Actress Joanelle Romero contacted me Thursday for help writing a pre-Oscar press release. She mentioned these scenes in True Grit and said she hated them. I said there's the hook for the press release. Begin it like this:
Academy Awards, still hanging Indians
The ideas are mostly hers. The organization and True Grit metaphor are mostly mine. The final wording is mostly hers. I can't take the credit, or the blame, for it. <g>
We've made these points over and over, but they bear repeating. Hollywood likes Indians in the distant past. It likes them dying or dead and gone. It likes cowboys winning the West, making America safe for democracy, triumphing over the forces of darkness (represented by savage Indians).
For more on the subject, see:
Movies convey "America's master narrative"
Hollywood's cultural conservatism
Mistakes and stereotypes in Westerns
Hollywood loves dying Indians
P.S. I made minor corrections in the spelling and punctuation of the postings above to improve their readability.