October 07, 2013

Plains Indians in Free Birds

'Free Birds' Tells Wrong Story, InaccuratelyIt's probably unreasonable to expect an animated children's movie about the First Thanksgiving to tell anything but the well-known sanitized version of the tale. All in all, it would be best to avoid the subject altogether, since the story of Indians and Pilgrims sitting down to a turkey dinner in 1621 sows seeds of basic disinformation that many people carry into adulthood. It simply didn't happen the way it's taught to children, and what did happen puts a smileyface on a long and shameful history of conquest and genocide.

The plot of Free Birds, coming to a theater near you November 1, finds an oppressed population traveling back in time to 1621 to change the course of history and save future generations. No, it's not Native Americans--it's turkeys. The turkeys from the future band together with their ancestors and wage a Braveheart-style war on the Pilgrims. It's your standard anthropomorphic kid-flick wackiness, and if history has to be fudged to make it work then so be it.
And:We haven't even mentioned Indians. There weren't any in the first trailer for the movie, and in the second they show up, briefly, in the final 20 seconds. One wears a large feather headdress and a bone breastplate, he has a partner and they're both riding horses. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

The Natives who took part in the First Thanksgiving were Wampanoags. They didn't wear elaborate feather headdresses and they didn't ride horses. The Wampanoags shared a continent with the Cheyenne, Comanche and Lakota, but that doesn't make them interchangeable. Would it be OK to portray the Pilgrims as Italians? All white people from Europe are the same, after all. And then you could have these Pellegrini putting the turkeys in a pasta dish, which would allow you to rewrite the movie's puzzling tagline, "Hang On To Your Nuggets" (do people eat turkey nuggets?) as "Hang On To Your Meatballs."

Just a thought. Free Birds doesn't open for another three weeks, so perhaps there's time for some re-editing.
Comment:  I watched a commercial for Free Birds and didn't see anything about time travel. So I can't tell if it's a major or minor part of the movie.

Either way, the producers should've made an effort to get the Indians right. It wouldn't have been hard.

If the Plains Indians appear for more than a minute or so, I'd call this a serious offense. Once again, millions of people will see false and stereotypical images that warp their perceptions.

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