Movie Review XVIII

by zenquaker

Reel Injun

A documentary of Native Americans in film, especially Hollywood film, tracing the effect of their cinematic depiction on the perception of their people by broader American culture.

I think this is sort of misbilled. It’s not so much about the way Hollywood as affected understanding of Native American culture as it is about the relationship of Native Americans to movies and their depiction therein. Which is still a really powerful story [+]. The movie is a bit bumpy at the start, but gets into a nice flow as it goes through the history of Native Americans in film. This is really interesting, because (unbeknownst to me) in the silent era the depictions of Native Americans in film were almost entirely positive, or at least realistic. One of the most popular was apparently The Silent Enemy, about the starvation that was faced by Native Americans at the time. The shift came in the Depression, but it was because all of the positive depictions bombed at the box office. It wasn’t Hollywood shaping the public’s views so much as Hollywood pandering to them.

That’s where the film starts to get into the relationship between movies and Native Americans, talking to a wide range of people [+]. They had several Native American activists, from John Trudell of the Alcatraz occupation (beat that, Occupy Wall Street) to Sacheen Littlefeather, who accepted Marlon Brando’s Oscar. They also talked to Native American directors and showed how aboriginal film is changing not just in America but across the world.

All in all, the historical overview was excellent [+], even pulling in Clint Eastwood to talk about Native Americans in Westerns. They talked about many of the famous Native Americans in film who weren’t Native Americans (like the guy from the 70s littering ads who had a long career in Hollywood, despite being a closet Italian). Another fascinating tidbit was Dances with Wolves, credited with bringing about the change to the more positive modern depictions of Native Americans, although most of the Native Americans they talked to hated it.

Final Rating: 7/10

Best Quote: I really gotta start taking notes. John Trudell and Russel Means had some great ones.