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Thursday, August 23, 2007

How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native American

Images of Indians: How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native American is a film you can show. Here is my summary:

Native Americans were among the first subjects ever portrayed on film.

Hollywood shaped society’s image of the Native American, for example saying, “They took over our land, why didn’t they stay in the reservations, where they belonged?”

The West was depicted as a “savage” land occupied by “savage” people. White settlers being attacked by Native People were a common plot device. The Native People were portrayed as the buffoon.

Motion pictures were made for White audiences and tended to stereotype and use formulas that did not round out the Native American characters. Hollywood was not trying to tell a Native American story (they were telling a Euro-American one).

Images had unrealistically negative Native Americans and Unrealistically positive White Americans who had more and better intellect, skills, character, etc.

The Hollywood formula had settlers being threatened by the overwhelming number of Native Americans, but it was just the opposite historically.

Hitler understood how seeing the Native American as less than human made it easier to commit atrocities (and he used these ideas).

Westerns are dangerous because misunderstanding of Native culture and actions is perpetuated. Native people fought because their land was being taken away, not because they were inherently savage or violent.

Even the “positive” Native portrayal was often demeaning and patronizing with things such as stilted language. In Cheyenne Autumn, many Native People were portrayed by Italians.

In Dances with Wolves, the “good white man” of North America was invented, no real person ever existed. But when Lt. Dunbar became a better “Indian” than the Indians, the formula continued. There were some positives in this film – using Lakota language, having Native consultation, showing the real culture of Native People.

Click here for a link to the PBS series Reel Indian, made in 2010.
Kemosabe? Loincloths, fringed pants, and feather headdresses? Heap big stereotypes. Reel Injun is an entertaining trip through the evolution of North American Native people ("The Indians") as portrayed in famous Hollywood movies, from the silent era to today.

Downtown NAmer wrote on Oct. 25, 2007 6:34 AM:
"Man, how would you like to grow up with the versions of what it means to be Native being a warrior. Not many options for warrior's these days - not so hot for employment. Not many chiefs either, that's a limited amount of positions. Stereotypes hurt because they are misleading about a people and categorize then unjustly when really all peoples are just people. Some Native Americans are farmers, fishermen, doctors, teachers, police officers, stay at home moms, actors, writers, social workers, nurses, construction workers, statesmen, artists, biochemists, mathematicians, foresters, biologists, you bleeding name it. Most are not warriors and see that as a very limited view of who they are or who their peoples were (or who I am or who my people were). Its not "Cowboys and Indians" today, and Native Americans aren't a threat - unlike the stereotype that is perpetuated by such references. "