With the graduation of Native American Heritage Month , it’s vital to contemplate methods to find out about Native American historical past in ways in which depict Native folks precisely with out prejudice.
From lengthy, in-depth documentaries, all the way in which to culturally topical sitcoms, there are a myriad of movies and TV sequence that try to depict Native tradition with various levels of nuance.
With so many sources to select from, it may be laborious for a non-Native viewers to know which of them are correct and which fall into Native stereotypes.
To offer that perception, The State Hornet has compiled this checklist of movies and TV sequence that comprise Native American characters or themes which are sturdy representations of the tradition or serve to perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices towards Native People.
“Rutherford Falls” is a sitcom sequence solely on Peacock and stars Jana Schmieding, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
The present follows Reagan Wells, a member of the fictional Minishonka Nation and her friendship with Nathan Rutherford, the descendant of Rutherford Fall’s founder.
All through the sequence, Wells struggles to search out the steadiness between her friendship with Rutherford who’s underneath scrutiny for defending the statue placement of “Massive Larry,” his colonial ancestor, and the connection along with her tribe.
“Rutherford Falls” is implausible at exhibiting fashionable Native identification. The present additionally has the primary Native American showrunner, Sierra Teller Ornelas, who’s Navajo. It’s clear to inform that “Rutherford Falls” does what many exhibits depicting Native folks fail to do: present Native folks in a modern-day setting.
General, “Rutherford Falls” is a lighthearted deal with that voices Native tales with out falling into stereotypical tropes. With sprinkles of Native humor and showcasing the skills of Schmieding, the present is anticipated for a second season.
“Dances With Wolves” is a 1990 historic western starring Kevin Costner as a retired Civil Battle soldier who chooses to desert his life and stay within the wilderness with the Lakota Sioux folks, who finally befriend him.
Whereas the movie’s depiction of the Sioux folks is considerably traditionally correct, its depiction of the Pawnee is essentially primarily based in historic false impression, portray them because the overly violent and vengeful “villains” of the movie.
Whereas historic proof means that the Sioux and the Pawnee had been routinely at conflict with each other at a number of factors all through American historical past, in actuality the Sioux had been bigger and extra highly effective and would possible have been the aggressors in any main battle between the tribes.
Historic inconsistencies apart, the movie additionally suffers from the all-too-common “white savior” trope, which entails telling the story from the angle of a white, often male protagonist who saves the native folks from destruction together with his superior firepower and tactical data.
This can be a trope frequent in lots of American westerns and movies about Native People generally, and it all the time serves to painting the white males within the tales as a essential power to protect the lives of Indigenous folks, as if they don’t seem to be able to defending themselves.
A present informed by Indigenous writers Sterlin Harjo and the Academy Award successful Taika Waititi, “Reservation Canines” follows the story of 4 Native youngsters dwelling on an Oklahoma reservation. With desires of working away to California, the youngsters discover themselves in loads of mischief whereas overcoming the struggles of being a Native youth.
Like “Rutherford Falls,” this yr’s “Reservation Canines” has turn out to be a trendsetter for Native illustration. Not like most mainstream exhibits about Native folks, the present is written for a Native viewers. All through every episode there are many nods to Oklahoma Native tradition and jokes a Native viewers understands firsthand.
For instance, in episode three of the present the kids are visiting Uncle Brownie, portrayed by the legendary Gary Farmer, they usually come throughout an owl statue. On this scene the owl’s eyes are pixelated out as the kids shortly flip away and canopy their eyes. This can be a reference to owls being seen as a harbingers of dying in some Native cultures.
Whereas a present like “Reservation Canines” is lengthy overdue, it succeeds in highlighting Native points like psychological well being and the complexity of Indigenous identification.
“Reservation Canines” stars an exquisite solid that debuts Paulina Alexis, a member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, who’s Oji-Cree, and Lane Issue, who’s Caddo and Seminole Creek. It additionally stars Devery Jacobs, who’s Kanien’kehá:ka Mohawk, identified for her work within the present “American Gods” and the impartial movie “Rhymes for Younger Ghouls.”
A comedic coming of age story, “Reservation Canines” is arguably probably the greatest exhibits of 2021 for its all-Indigenous author’s room, sensible solid and charming storytelling.
“Peter Pan” (1953) comprises maybe Walt Disney Studios’ most egregious depiction of Native People thus far.
Whereas the movie is essentially primarily based round fantastical parts like magic, pirates, mermaids and fairies, it does comprise a distinguished plot level revolving across the native natives of Neverland, who’re all depicted with vibrant crimson pores and skin and carrying stereotypical “conflict paint” and headdresses akin to the prejudices in opposition to Native People in racist political cartoons.
The movie incorporates a track referred to as “What Made Purple Man Purple,” throughout which the tribe is proven talking in guttural tones, very a lot in step with cultural misconceptions about Native People on the time.
J.M. Barrie, the creator of the ebook on which the movie relies, was born in 1860 and grew up in Victorian England at a time the place the favored sentiment amongst these within the British Isles was that the British Empire was eternal and nice, which resulted in a plethora of violently racist depictions of these deemed “inferior,” together with many Indigenous peoples.
“Bury My Coronary heart at Wounded Knee” is a 2007 historic drama sequence tailored from the true story of the Lakota and their compelled exodus from their properties within the mid Eighteen Eighties.
This sequence was groundbreaking for its depiction of the systemic suppression of Native cultures and folks by the US army, a subject that’s nonetheless the topic of a lot sensitivity amongst People right now.
The present focuses largely on the story of Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota who led his folks in revolts in opposition to American imperialism for many years till his dying in 1890. Sitting Bull is performed by Mohawk actor August Schellenberg.
“Bury My Coronary heart at Wounded Knee” is type of a response to the “white savior” complicated of many tales depicting Native American historical past, exhibiting how the folks stood up for themselves within the face of overwhelming odds.
The film may be very a lot a testomony to the resilience of Native American heritage and showcases traditional Native expertise like Adam Seashore who’s Anishinaabe and Duane Howard from the Mowachaht First Nations band.
“The Ridiculous Six” is a 2015 comedy starring Adam Sandler, serving as a parody of American western movies.
The movie options many jokes about bodily capabilities and racial stereotypes, a lot of which contain Black or Native American folks.
The movie presents Native People in among the most clichéd methods attainable, typically counting on the “Hollywood Indian” trope from the early days of American Cinema, which depicted Native People as “noble savages” who worth nature and spirituality however take pleasure in killing and promiscuity in direction of white folks.
Whereas it’s attainable the movie’s writers didn’t intend for this to be taken as an insult towards Native folks , the ignorance with which they approached the humor within the movie is consultant of the lack of information and social consciousness put into lots of the fashionable depictions of Native People in standard cinema right now.
The movie was the topic of concern amongst Native actors that had been solid in it, resulting in a huge protest that garnered nationwide media protection.
How can we do higher?
The movies listed within the “good” class characterize tales that depict Native People precisely whereas remaining true to the core beliefs and values of Native communities in query.
Except for letting the underrepresented cultures take the stage instead of their oppressors, additionally it is vital for filmmakers and writers to do not forget that Native People nonetheless exist and their tales don’t finish with the wild west days.
Trendy filmmakers should study that representations of Native People in movie don’t solely should be within the context of historic occasions or conflict.
Reveals like “Reservation Canines” on Hulu and “Rutherford Falls”on Peacock are breaking this development by depicting Native American characters within the fashionable age in settings that concentrate on the relatable, day-to-day facets quite than highlighting cultural suppression.
It’s time for the remainder of Hollywood to do the identical.