I posted these questions on the NativeCelebs page in Facebook. This led to the following exchanges with one of the German producers:
Style of the Film--Author's Note
The first Winnetou book depicts a whole tribe of "murderous savages" who capture Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. Indeed, the majority of Indians in the book are murderous savages. How do you propose to counteract this stereotype if you remain faithful to the book?
The book itself portrays most Indians badly. So you're either going to change the book's story or remain faithful to its stereotypical message. I wonder which?
As I understand them, May's books portray a largely empty American West with a few bad ranchers, miners, and Indians who cause trouble. There's no mention of the US government's genocidal actions, Manifest Destiny, broken treaties, Trails of Tears, etc.
The first book shows you what you can expect. A good Apache tribe, mostly off-page, with made-up names and cultural traits. A bad Kiowa tribe, mostly on-page, with murderous savages. And nothing else--no mention of the hundreds of tribes that existed across the continent with a rich diversity of cultures and languages.
Again, is your movie going to change all that? Or are you going to remain faithful to the books? It can be one or the other, but it can't be both.
In the book, Old Shatterhand leads a surveying party that ultimately contributes to the Indians' downfall. The book portrays him as superior to every Indian, including Winnetou. Indeed, Shatterhand is a Christ-like savior figure to the poor savages. Winnetou and his sister ultimately embrace Christianity to make them palatable to readers.
Also, portraying the Apaches as paragons of "sustainability" is somewhat misleading. They were one of the less peaceful and more warlike tribes in America. Making them tree-hugging nature lovers is almost as bad as making them murderous savages. A three-dimensional portrayal would be better.
Let us know if you're going to change or critique any of these things in your movie. Otherwise, it's likely to be as stereotypical as the book was.
This is a case where Johnny Depp has the right idea. Reinventing the Winnetou story to make the Indian clearly superior to the white man would be a good idea. Portraying Old Shatterhand as the "Sacred Bear" who comes to "protect" the Indians isn't such as good idea.
In our story the author comes to the west to look for a better life and earn some money and learn from the native culture that to be rich is not the goal...Friendship, love to nature and respectful living in harmony with people and nature is the real treasure
we only distinguish in our story between good people and bad people. no matter to which culture, race or sex they belong.
Karl May fabricated the Apache culture out of his imagination. And what he wrote in the prologue doesn't square with what he wrote in the book. Are you going to research the Apache culture and portray it accurately? Or are you going to repeat May's complete fabrication of it?
As far as I know, neither Old Shatterhand nor Winnetou's Apaches expressed any love of nature or respectful living in harmony in the book itself. So you're going to change May's superficial and false portrayal of Indian life? If so, good. But none of that is evident in the worshipful write-ups you posted above.
Here's the key quote from the Winnetou prologue:
"[The Indian] became through no fault of his own a slinking, lying, mistrustful, murderous redskin."
May doesn't say this happened to some Indians. He says it happened to the Indian—that is, to every Indian. The proud huntsman has become a murderous redskin.
Winnetou and his phony Apache tribe are the only exception to this rule. They're good but most Indians are bad--i.e., murderous savages. If you change this, great, but you won't be telling Karl May's story anymore. You'll be inventing a story that has little to do with the original.
Karl May didn't just make "some mistakes." He fabricated the entire history of the American West from his home in Germany. His books are one big mistake that have almost nothing to do with actual Indian cultures and history.
For my critique of the Old Shatterhand/Winnetou legend, see:
Good things intended
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For starters, I'd say either get yourself some Apache consultants or create a fictional tribe instead. I think many Apaches would be insulted by seeing May's bastardization of their culture on the screen. That may have been okay in 1940 or 1950, when movie Indians were nameless, cultureless savages, but it's not okay in 2011.
Below: Guess who's really the star of the Winnetou saga? The guy on the tallest rock or the guy he's looking down on?
Winnetou: "Thank you for saving us,