Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Reel Injun


Reel Injun explores common stereotypical depictions of Native Americans in film, from the noble savage to the drunk indian. Even beyond stereotypes, Hollywood has commonly hired non-Native American actors to play Native American roles (particularly actors of Italian or Jewish descent). The mythic Indian character has evolved over history to fit the dominant culture’s narrative and contribute to an overall sense of “otherness” that the Native American’s embody. Through setting and location, Hollywood has built an unrealistic picture of what a Native Person looks like. The era of various films has played a large role in creating ideas around Native Persons, such as the classic western in creating a demonizing portrayal of Native Americans. These depictions have led to a conflict of identity within many of the Native actors, directors, and critics, however as more and more Natives are finding voices within the production of film the narrative is changing for the better.
When looking at how the setting and location has fueled many stereotypes, we look to the West. Westerns are notorious for their depiction of Native Americans, and it provides a cumulation of stereotypical behaviors, attitudes, and appearance that has fueled the dominant culture’s image of what a Native American should be and look like. The west combines aspects of various tribes into one. While it is mostly influenced by the look of the Plains native peoples through it’s use of feather headdresses and lavish dress, it also incorporates other aspects that is not a part of that tribe’s identity such as headdresses. The natural landscape of the west has also contributed to the mysticism and natural spirituality that the dominant culture believes Native American’s possess. The West was also a historical place of struggle and harsh conditions--therefore putting Native American’s at the helm for this struggle. They symbolically “stood in the way” of the white settler’s access to what rightfully “belonged” to them.
The era of which films were produced has played a large role in the “othering” of the Native American, particularly in early film depictions of the Native American. In the late 1800s-early 1900s, the feelings towards Native Americans were filled with immense amounts of tension. Native Americans were socially disliked and unwanted within society, and this played out in the creation of many myths such as the savage injun and the dead injun. These depictions helped fuel an acceptance of the real-life atrocities that Native American’s faced such as mass genocide and other forms of violence. By limiting portrayals of Native Americans, it created a lens through which Native People were seen as “less than”. By being stoic and emotionless, they were less than human, by being portrayed as a violent they were seen as a threat to white civilization.
The construction of the Hollywood Injun has had a major impact on Native American people in reality. The initial stereotypes such as spirituality have led many of the critics in the film to question their own identity and who they are. The depiction of cowboys vs indians in both play and film have led to an internalized self-loathing. An internalized notion that they are “other”. Starting in the seventies, cultural appropriation became a major problem. From hippy culture adopting the “groovy indian” lifestyle to white romanticism of Native American women, the absorption of mythological ideas of Native Americans has led to conflict between a real identity and that of a false one. Sacheen Littlefeather discusses in the film her confusion with white culture’s adaptation of “Native life”. From dress to way of living, she looked at the free spirited hippies and did not see herself--even though it was “her” they were trying to emulate.
Similar to what is found in Reel Injun, T* will aspire to participate in a dialogue that is currently missing--transgender voices discussing problems with media representation of transgender individuals. While my focus is on new and real life figures, it will nonetheless have a similar feel to it.

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