I know I am probably SUPER late but I just found out about this film while browsing the internet at work:
I really want to to see this!
I read an article while attending Howard’s Film School, entitled “Fantasies of the Master Race: Categories of Stereotyping of American Indians in Film.” In it, Ward Churchill asserts that the representation of American Indians in commercial US Cinema is “racist on all levels.” He identifies three major categories of these representations.
The following is my summary of the article:
The first is the American Indian as a Creature of Another Time. Churchill claims that the American Indian has been restricted in terms of the times of their collective existence. The mainstream image of Native Americans is that they came to existence with the arrival of Whites on their land, and then vanished thereafter. There is an apparent problem because there is no “before” or “after” as Churchill states. In addition, Native Americans are continually defined in relation to Europeans and Whites, and not in any autonomous light. There are also not many contemporary films that deal with present Indian realities, making the extensive span of indigenous past and present unrecognized in mainstream film.
The second area of emphasis, according to Churchill, is Native cultures defined by Eurocentric Values. Churchill recalls a story where his Chippewa friend visited a museum and noticed that an artifact featured, her grandmother’s root digger, was mistakenly featured as a Winnebago hide scraper. When she called the mistake to the attention of the museum’s experts, they asserted that she was wrong. This situation reflects the ways in which Native cultures are continually interpreted and represented under Eurocentric perspectives, contexts, and motivations. Thus, the inherent meaning in Native practices is washed out and appears nonsensical and comical. For example, Churchill states that this is primarily carried out through the white characters’ narration of stories that involve Indian characters. He states, “ To date,… there has not been one attempt to put out a commercial film which deals with native reality through native eyes.”
The third area of emphasis is “Seen One Indian, Seen ‘em All,” wherein there is an implied assumption that distinctions between Native groupings are irrelevant. Several films, including A Man Called Horse feature an amalgamation of Indian cultural traits reflective of different tribes, in attempts to create one homogenous grouping of the “Indian experience.” As a result of these gross generalizations and mainstream creations of the generic, inauthentic “Indian,” the true meaning and humanity of all Native people become compromised and lost.
In his conclusion, Churchill states, “Genocide is, after all, an extremely ugly word.” He calls attention to mainstream beliefs that Indian “savages” were defeated during the birth of America rather than the honest acknowledgment that European settlers actually murdered intelligent human beings. The popular memory of the “Cowboys versus the evil Indians” serves only to feed the mainstream myth of America’s victory and rightful manifest destiny over this land and the Native peoples that inhabit/ed it. Churchill asserts that “only a concerted effort to debunk Hollywood’s mythology can alter the situation for the better.”
Some questions I pose in light of his critique:
Churchill speaks of a concerted effort to debunk Hollywood’s mythology of Native peoples? What do you think would have to be done to alter mainstream representations of Native people? Do you think that this reform can take place within the mainstream film industry, or would it have to continue to develop in the independent film realm?
Do you see any similarities between mainstream representations of Native cultures and that of Black people? Churchill also speaks of the homogenization of all Native people in mainstream films so that the authenticity of different Native cultures is lost. Do you see that happening in representations of Blacks in mainstream films? Is there a uniformity present in stereotyping both Blacks and Native Americans that empties our cultures of their diversity and richness?
Are you a fan of Cowboy and Indian films? Think about why you relate or enjoy these films. Do you think your enjoyment of these films is related to your place as an American citizen and the popular American narrative of “us against them?”
I really hope that a film such as this can serve as part of the “concerted effort to debunk Hollywood’s mythology” as it pertains to Native/Indigenous peoples. I can’t wait to see this film. If you know of any screening information for it, please post!