May 16, 2007

Is Bury My Heart honest?

HBO's 'Wounded Knee' movie makes positive contributionThe NMAI reviewers had critiques of the film--nothing captures reality to everyone's satisfaction--but strongly supported a premiere at the NMAI. Announced as a fictional story based on a historical narrative, it was to be expected that events would be changed to facilitate the story line. The question became: Are the historical and biographical themes intellectually honest? The group reported that "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" tells a good story while contributing to the understanding of complex Indian issues.

An early review by New York Times television critic Edward Wyatt questions the techniques of dramatization used to compress 30 years of history into a two-hour film. The language of the review is harsh, labeling the project "historically inaccurate" and chastising the "fabrications" in the biography of Eastman depicted in the film. Quoting relatives and biographers who naturally note the historical license taken, Wyatt wantonly exacerbates the issue. Poetic license is standard practice in film production. To carry forward a dramatic sequence, principal characters are written to endow a story with compelling motion and point of view. The primary issue is whether major historical and biographical themes are honestly depicted and whether a major national audience can be simultaneously entertained and educated. The wonderful thing about Eastman, or Ohiyesa, is that he wrote clearly and extensively and still, in 2007, has a dozen books in print. More people will be educated and made curious about Ohiyesa by this film than have ever heard about him and his very authentic American Indian point of view. If details of the biography have been compressed to move the drama, the sequence of Eastman's life, his heroic work--from treating the wounded and dying of the Wounded Knee Massacre to his advocacy of Native peoples in his point of view, is layered honestly into the story.
Comment:  When Barreiro writes that Bury My Heart was "announced as a fictional story"...well, no, not exactly. Here's how executive producer Dick Wolf described it:

"It is a vast, historical epic of non-fiction."

"In a search for historical accuracy, I think we've gone more than the extra mile."

So is it fiction or nonfiction? Accurate or inaccurate? Barreiro and Wolf seem to differ on the point.

Incidentally, I suspect most filmmakers--John Ford, Kevin Costner, Disney, Mel Gibson--considered themselves and their movies intellectually honest. That doesn't mean that they were.


Anonymous said...

In answer to the question, "Is Bury My Heart honest?"...well, based on what we know (and having not yet seen) the answer is pretty clear.


Should we be shocked, shocked by this revelation?

Rob said...

This may be a case of semantics. I.e., it's accurate enough, but not too accurate to be boring.

The Local Crank said...

I have a hard time seeing Senator Charles Dawes portrayed in such a sympathetic light, given his well-documented loathing of Indian culture. And, of course, like any movie about non-whites, the story must be told through a white central character.