Access: Netflix; YouTube (trailer; clip 1; clip 2; clip 3)
Summary: Reel Injun explores the role Hollywood cinema has played in shaping the image of First Nations People. Starting with the silent film era, director Neil Diamond argues that "the Indian" first appeared in cinema as noble and dignified, but by the 1930s, classic westerns like, They Died with their Boots on, catalyzed the emergence of negative stereotypes. The Indian was newly imagined as treacherous, and Hollywood narratives began featuring white settler protagonists in their stagecoaches fending off attacks from the Indian hordes. Just as Indian characters in film became increasingly based on this one dimensional stereotype, native people were also losing the ability to play Indian roles. Instead, productions cast white actors, like Burt Lancaster, Charles Bronson, and Elvis Presley in Indian roles and even sprayed them with a toning agent to help them look the part. By the 1960s, films like Little Big Man, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and later, Dances with Wolves, introduced more complicated depictions of native people; however, dominant narratives still tracked the imperiled white heroes in their proverbial stagecoaches (see also our clip "Avatar Remix and Representations of the Other"). Not until the renaissance in native cinema did films like Once we Were Warriors and Smoke Signals portray native people as fully realized human beings and protagonists in their own right. In the documentary's conclusion, Lakota activist and poet, John Trudell, suggests that there has been a sustained effort to vanquish native people through war and violence and to erase or subsume their history. Attention to how native people have been represented in film suggests too that Hollywood has played a vital role in this genocidal project through its representations of the Indian in film. These persistent depictions of the Indian as treacherous, barbaric, and peripheral have worked to strip native people of their humanity. And those who lack humanity are easier to vanquish.
Note that this documentary film would work nicely with another clip on The Sociological Cinema (here) that explores issues surrounding the representation and First Nations People in cinema and takes up the question, "Who has the right to represent whom?"
Submitted By: Lester Andrist