July 24, 2011

Indians MIA in Cowboys and Aliens

As you may recall, the Cowboys & Aliens graphic novel was about cowboys and Indians setting aside their differences and teaming up against aliens. The whole Indian part of the story seems to have disappeared. Now, finally, we have an explanation of why.

Jon Favreau Shoots for Western Realism in Cowboys & Aliens

By Chris KohlerThe movie is inspired by Cowboys & Aliens, a 2006 graphic novel created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg and written by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley, although the film’s plot is almost entirely different from the book.

“The title was the original thing that drew me to [the project],” Favreau said. “It was always a title (where) I thought, ‘The best version of this movie would be awesome.’”

Over the course of his career, the director says he has come to appreciate the value of a high concept.

“After Zathura, having a title that people couldn’t really pronounce and a movie that never bit in from a marketing standpoint, I’ve grown to appreciate something that’s memorable,” he said. “[We've] created a box in people’s minds called Cowboys & Aliens, and now we’re filling in that box.”

Comment:  So director Favreau jettisoned the idea of cowboys and Indians as equal partners against the aliens because that wasn't "awesome" enough. His version of "Western realism" is one that renders Indians almost invisible. Isn't that special?

Someone on Facebook named Lisa commented that her daughter was an extra in the movie and Favreau followed the script regarding the Apache characters, or something like that. My response:

Not sure what you mean, Lisa. My point is that the Cowboys & Aliens graphic novel was roughly half cowboys and half Indians. Favreau eliminated the major focus on Indians because that wasn't interesting enough to him.

Lisa didn't know why I was being so judgmental, and said her daughter was well paid. My response to that:

I didn't say Favreau mistreated anyone. Unless you consider the elimination of several major roles for Indians "mistreatment."

It's the middle of the night [on Facebook] and we occasionally like to discuss Hollywood's failure to feature and cast Indians. Is there some reason we shouldn't judge Hollywood when it fails?

Actor David Midthunder has a small role in Cowboys and Aliens, so I added:

I'm glad people like David Midthunder got big paychecks for small roles. I'm sorry they didn't get huge paychecks for big roles. That's what they would've gotten--an impressive amount of fame and fortune--if Favreau had filmed the original graphic novel.

The reviews are in

I gather the critics mostly like Cowboys and Aliens:

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens:  Film Review

Review:  ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ Brings the Bad-Ass, But Falls Short on the Mash-Up

But they seem to confirm that the Indians play a minor role in the movie. Sounds to me like the cowboys ride out to face the aliens...some Indians surround them...and the cowboys convince them to join the battle. After that, I suspect the Indians ride, whoop, and fire ineffectually in the background while the white characters provide all the heroic drama.

Imagine if Favreau had filmed the original graphic novel. The credits would read Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Adam Beach, and xxxxx [another Indian]. The Native actors would've vaulted into superstar-dom. Just as a Native actor would've done if he'd been cast as Jacob Black in Twilight. Or as Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

With Spielberg, Favreau, Ford, and Craig, Cowboys and Aliens was always likely to be a commercial success. Featuring Indians in it wouldn't have changed that. Instead, Favreau and company basically wrote them out. They thought the "best," most "awesome" story they could tell was about whites.

That's Hollywood prejudice at work for you. White people catering to white people because white people rule.

For more on Cowboys and Aliens, see Cowboys and Aliens Is No Joke and Noah Ringer = American Indian?!


Student of the World said...

I'm not going to see it. Ill read the graphic novel. Was that at least historically accurate/realistic?

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head Rob, but this has been going on for a long time in most films of westerns with native actors with very few exceptions. This is what I tried to bring to light with Hollywoods elite and yes, many of the top brass are of Jewish descent. How do we consider how horrific history has been to Jews, and the tons of film, material and documentarys done, much needed history lessons, but for some reason, the film "Dead Man" with Johnny Depp shares 75% of the film with Gary Farmer and everyone from wikipedia, google, amazon and even the DVD itself only lists Farmer, whom covers alot of script, gets listed repeatedly as, "a mysterious stranger".
And it is not only film! The late Jesse Ed Davis, a full blooded Kiowa, has worked on everyone from The Pointer Sisters albums to three of the Beatles solo albums barely gets mentioned, even on The Concert for Bangladesh film.

alanajoli said...

I've been waiting to hear what you'll say about the film, Rob. I have to say that based on the previews and the descriptions I read of the film before seeing it, the Indians in the film played a greater role than I anticipated. (But this says something about how I'd lowered my expectations in that regard.)

In general, I enjoyed the movie, and I found it to be closer to the original plot that I'd expected. I am still processing how I feel about the depiction of the Apaches. I'll be doing a blog entry about my experience at the movie in the not too distant future.