May 10, 2007

Dick Wolf on Bury My Heart

Interview with Dick WolfHBO: Can you briefly set up the story Dan Giat has adapted?

Dick Wolf: It is a vast, historical epic of non-fiction. The biggest job that Dan did is synthesize a book that is about 500 pages long into a coherent movie that traces the history of the Sioux from Little Bighorn--which was Custer's last stand--through the Massacre of Wounded Knee, which is probably one of the low points of American history. But, I think what the movie will show is that for better or worse, the Indian experience is really one of near genocide, and it is not a proud moment in the history of the United States. But, it is a very revealing look, and there is an enormous mirror into the current world because it is really the story of the United States trying to impose their will on what was essentially a foreign country with a population living a life that was totally different than what this country was becoming.

HBO: Do you have a favorite scene?

Dick Wolf: Oh, I absolutely have a favorite scene, which is a confrontation between Miles, who is the colonel who came to bring the Sioux under control after Little Bighorn, and Sitting Bull. They have a powwow in the middle of the plains, and Sitting Bull takes his position, which is, "Why are you doing this to us? You know we're out here living our lives." And, Miles is the one who turns to him and says, "Wait a minute. You're the most warlike tribe on the North American continent. You came out of Minnesota and killed the Crow. Why are you any better?" And, that is the moment in the film that you can see the historical perspective is one thing, but there is always a rationale for the aggressor to do what he's doing. So, it's a wonderful scene both psychologically and historically because it puts the entire film into perspective. It's the one scene that has not changed in the last three years of writing and rewriting, so it's pretty powerful.
Comment:  This is an odd choice for Wolf's favorite scene. It seems to excuse the white man's crimes by saying the Indians did the same thing.

I presume this exchange never took place, so it's doubly odd that Wolf chose to include it. What's the "perspective" he's pushing: that the victims are no different from the victimizers?

Sitting Bull could've responded in several ways to Miles's comment. Here are a few possibilities:

"I'm not responsible for my ancestors' actions. I'm responsible for my actions and so are you."

"Our wars were small-scale skirmishes with few people killed. You're trying to exterminate our race."

"Unlike the Lakota and Crow people who came before us, we signed treaties guaranteeing our rights. You're violating those agreements."

"We didn't preach a philosophy of 'love thy neighbor as thyself,' then violate it. You did."

"Two wrongs don't make a right. Never have, never will."

In the rest of the interview, Wolf justifies the fabrications noted in the NY Times. Needless to say, I don't buy the justification. If a historical episode isn't dramatic enough to tell, then don't tell it. Don't fictionalize it and then tout the honesty and accuracy of your storytelling.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Like your interpretive replies of Sitting Bull, but the one word missing even from them is ""
Think about it -- isn't that one word ALWAYS missing?
All Best
Russ Bates

sara JE said...

yeah- once again, they need a white or "beige" character to help white audiences connect or maybe actually consider indigenous people as humans, so sad really- it's sad that the idea that some eloquent intelligent brown people would want their own land, culture, language, ceremonies, and rights (and to be left the F alone) is so foreign- that these people MUST be at least part-white.....also the fact that in each of these movies, (movies i really like, but in a love/hate manner)like dances with wolves, dog soldiers, into the's sad that this is what we feel like we have to settle each one there is a well intentioned white person saving the injuns, and some sort of white/indian love thing going on....and Adam Beach should be ashamed to show his face after being in windtalkers...that movie was SO hilarious!! (and I can't believe that the Navs endorsed it) i can't believe Adam Beach ever lived that one down on his reserve - imagine it "Hey Adam, did you have fun getting carried around like #$%#$% by some white guy?" (5 native guys roll on ground laughing); it's also sad that someone like Adam Beach will take what he can get, even if it means bending over and grabbing his ankles (and smiling into the camera or looking like a lusty injun at the same time)

Rob said...

Charles Eastman was part-Indian and identified himself as an Indian, so I wouldn't call him a white character. But clearly the filmmakers agreed with your point about needing a familiar figure to provide entry into the story. So they added Eastman and his white wife, who didn't have a role in Dee Brown's book.