December 27, 2008

A film not in their own words

Discovery’s ‘America’s First Nations’ sparks debateThe Discovery Channel’s documentary film about the Haudenosaunee has sparked a controversy over historical accuracy, racial stereotyping, tone and intent.

The film was aired twice over the Dec. 6 weekend under the title “America’s First Nations” and has generated a long string of comments at Discovery’s forums Web site at

Originally called “First Nations: In Their Own Words,” the name change reflected the new direction the film took after the original production was turned in, said a Mohawk writer who was hired as the technical consultant for the film.

“The final version is not a film in our ‘own words,’” said Doug George-Kanentiio.
And:The executive who had backed the project and funded it with almost $50 million was fired, and a new production company, Half Yard Productions, and a non-Native writer were brought in to re-edit the film.

“And they wanted to take it from what our understanding and vision was and make it into an action film for Discovery’s new target audience–18- to 30-year-old males,” George-Kanentiio said.

He was appalled at the final version.

“Of the 43 minutes [of the film’s length], 38 minutes were violence. They were showing cannibalism and beheadings. It was almost all fight scenes and little or nothing about the characters. We had included an oblique reference to cannibalism because it is part of the story, but it was more to emphasize the change that took place in the human beings. It wasn’t central and they made it central and it obscured everything else,” George-Kanentiio said.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

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