January 16, 2014

Oscar nominations for Native-themed movies

Two movies with Native themes earned three Oscar nominations Thursday. Unfortunately, neither movie was a positive development for Indians:

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Lone Ranger

Best Visual Effects: The Lone Ranger

Best Music--Original Song: Alone Yet Not Alone from Alone Yet Not Alone

Adrienne Keene tells us what's wrong with these nominations in her Native Appropriations blog:

They give out Oscars for racism now?

After noting that the other characters' makeup and hairstyling were nothing special, she concludes that the award must be for Johnny Depp's Tonto:The Lone Ranger, one of the biggest film flops of 2013 (haha), is being honored for its brilliant use of redface? What kind of world do we live in? Oh, I know. One that makes a movie called Alone Yet Not Alone.

“Best Song”–Alone Yet Not Alone: I’m not going to go into everything that is wrong with this movie. It could be another dissertation. But, here are some images to help you out. First, the trailer:

Among the movie's stereotypes: The colonists call the Delaware Indians "savages." The Indians are half-naked with scary red and black warpaint. And they engage in scalping and burning people at the stake.

Then there's the official who says, "No savage shall ever inherit this land." Uh, what? Indians don't need to "inherit" it since they already possess it.

The only way this makes sense is if the colonists conceded that Indians own the land now, but they plan to exterminate all the Indians' children. So literally no one will be left to inherit the land from its present owners.

Keene also highlights key phrases from the movie's IMDB summary:Hostile native tribes are raiding the vulnerable frontier farms ... sisters are suddenly and cruelly separated ... forcibly immersed into a primitive foreign culture ... pursued by a relentless and cunning warrior ... etc.Keene's conclusion:So what have we learned today that we didn’t already know? Nothing. We learned that the Academy Awards is racist. It always has been. 94% of the voting members of the academy are white. So both The Lone Ranger and Alone Yet Not Alone feed into the colonial fantasy BS that dominates Hollywood stories about Indians.Why the nomination?

If the case for the movie isn't great, is the case for the song any better? Not necessarily. Here's some speculation about how the song got nominated:

The Oscar nomination that stinks to heaven

Posted by Ty BurrWouldn't it have to be a darn good song to make the cut? As you can see from the video below, "Alone Yet Not Alone" is solemn, churchy, heartfelt, not too polished--a little logy, perhaps, but obviously coming from a more sincere place than a lot of entries in this category. And--oh, yeah--it's composed by Bruce Broughton, an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences governor and a recent head of the Academy's music branch.

So what happened here? Since the nominations in any craft category are voted for only by members in that branch--everyone gets to vote on all the categories for the actual awards--there clearly was a campaign on the part of someone or someones that did the trick and got enough votes to get the song over the hump, however big or small that hump may have been. Furthermore, is it any coincidence that the composer of the score for "Alone yet Not Alone" is William Ross, who will be the Oscar telecast's music director this year for the fourth time?
Is this a case of conservative Christians pushing their agenda any way they can? A message that Indians are pagan savages along with a paean to God? Hmm, could be.

Doesn't the Academy have a rule about governors or music directors not participating when they have a song nominated? If not, should it have such a rule? Won't people assume the fix is in--as it may well be?

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