By Matthew Hays
Apparently several people had to hold John Wayne back, as the right-wing icon was so infuriated by what Littlefeather had said he appeared to want to attack her physically. And some journalists promptly suggested that Littlefeather was a fake and not in fact a Native person. “It was a very brave thing for her to do,” says Diamond. “She did some roles after that, in B-movies like The Trial of Billy Jack, but, for the most part, her promising film acting career was over. She was ostracized in Hollywood. There were no more offers.”
At the time of Brando’s famous move, actor Russell Means was holed up at the Wounded Knee standoff. Diamond includes an interview with Means, as he talks about how much Brando’s decline of the Oscar meant to him and other Native activists. Means also recalls the effect that Saturday-morning serials had on him and other Native children where he grew up. “Means told us about going to the cinema—and all the kids would watch the Natives portrayed in Westerns. After the movies were over, he and the other Native kids would have to fight their way home. These images had a tremendous impact on him.”
Some of the clips are entirely strange. Diamond shows us glimpses of the so-called Red Westerns, genre films made east of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, in which the roles are reversed. A critique of the capitalist system and imperialism emerge as Natives were portrayed as victimized good guys or freedom fighters, while the American cowboy was shown as greedy, violent and oppressive.
And Means reports that white kids beat up Native kids after seeing Indians as savages and killers on the screen. Is anyone surprised? Yes, all the doofuses who claim a movie is just a movie that can't influence anyone must be surprised. Stupid idiots.
Anyway, Reel Injun may be interesting if it focuses on points such as these. But its revelation that Iron Eyes Cody wasn't an Indian hasn't been news for several decades.
And I'm not sure its claim to be the first "feature documentary" on Natives in film is accurate. Imagining Indians by Victor Masayesva was one, I believe, and I bet there are others.
For more on the subject, see Mistakes and Stereotypes in Westerns and The Best Indian Movies.