March 08, 2010

"Indians" in Cannibal! The Musical

Cannibal! The MusicalCannibal! The Musical, also known as Alferd Packer: The Musical, is an independent film directed by co-creator of South Park, Trey Parker, while studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder. A black comedy, it is loosely based on the true story of Alferd Packer and the sordid details of the trip from Utah to Colorado that left his five fellow travellers dead and partially eaten. Trey Parker stars as Alferd Packer, with Parker's frequent collaborators Matt Stone and Dian Bachar and others playing the supporting roles.


The film begins with a reenactment of the gruesome events of cannibalism as described by the prosecuting attorney during Alferd Packer's trial in 1883. Packer insists that things happened differently than what has been recounted, and begins to tell his story to journalist Polly Pry (Toddy Walters) through flashback.

Eventually, the Packer party is spotted by two “Nihonjin” Indians (obviously played by Asians and speaking Japanese). They are taken back to the tribe where they learn the trappers are waiting for the winter storm to pass as recommended by the chief.


The Japanese "Indians" were really Japanese foreign exchange students from Trey Parker's college. The Indian chief was played by the owner and operator of "Sushi Zanmai" in downtown Boulder, CO.

Cultural References

Said Indians are referred to as the Nihonjin tribe. "Nihonjin" is Japanese for "Japanese people."

Comment:  I guess this is supposed to be funny? Maybe this is the dramatic, unfunny, part of the movie.

So Trey Parker used the standard chief and teepee stereotypes for Utah's Ute Indians. And he compounded the problem by using Japanese people to play the Indians.

This fits nicely with the anti-Indian prejudice shown in the South Park episode Red Man's Greed. The evidence mounts that Parker has a racist attitude toward Indians.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.


Anonymous said...

Wow. This is one of those posts where you really missed the mark. It was hilarious and a comment on Hollywood's stereotypical depictions of Indians, coupled with long tradition of casting non-Indians to portray Indians in film that don't even resemble real Indians. I am amazed that someone who champions himself as an Indian pop culture buff could be so unbelievably inept.

dmarks said...

It doesn't sound that funny, but it does seem pretty obvious that giving a Japanese name to an Indian tribe played by Japanese actors is satire, not stereotype.

Anonymous said...

I agree with DMarks. As for the first comment, that seems like a good idea to mock Hollywood's "stereotypical depiction of Indians in film". My only flaw is that they didn't properly explain/introduce the true intent behind the making of this film in broader apects. So this film had me flabbergasted and not laughing.


Anonymous said...

If Mel Brooks or Jackie Chan play "Indians", all but the most stupid audiences will know it's meant to be satirical or comic. Same goes for this.

Rob said...

I've discussed this type of "satire" about a hundred times before, Anonymous. The only person who's missed something is your missing these previous discussions.

If a "satire" shows something identical to a non-satire but claims its intent is to satirize, most critics would call that an epic fail. A satire requires some sort of mockery of conventions--one that's obvious enough for people to understand.

In this case, the film used a Plains chief and teepees with no commentary whatsoever on how they were there to mock the conventions of old Westerns. You could infer such mockery, but you'd simply be making it up. My inference--that Parker and company are ignoramuses who don't know any better--is just as good as yours.

If you think the filmmakers knew the Utes didn't have such chiefs and, you're really naive. Go ahead and show me the evidence that they used these stereotypes intentionally despite knowing better. Good luck with your'll need it.

Anonymous said...

Huh? There's a reason why I said "satirical or comic", not merely "satirical."

I'm not the one who's missing things.

(.wow, you're really naive.) In any case, I'm not sure how much you can infer about the creators of a work like this from the material alone.

Unknown said...

After watching Russians masquerading around in Plains getup, I thought it was pretty funny and a punch in the throat to those WahNahBees. But as I look back now re-watching this clip, the south park gang were probably not thinking along the same lines as I was.

They could've had, say, Russel Means dressed up as a cowboy shaking his head in disgust saying "Who are they trying to fool?... (side eyes his friends) oh." Alas, another movie perpetuating the Plains stereotype and addressing even natives in Utah wore headdresses, and possibly hunted the buffalo which I get from people who I meet for the first time every single time.

I'm a Pomo boy and my people and relations NEVER hunted buffalo! Keep on keepin on with your bad selves Rob and dmarks.

Anonymous said...

I always assumed that it was due to the fact that indians are descendents of asians........