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Killing the Indian Maiden

Killing the Indian Maiden: Images of Native American Women in Film

M. Elise Marubbio
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Killing the Indian Maiden
    Book Description:

    Killing the Indian Maiden examines the fascinating and often disturbing portrayal of Native American women in film. Through discussion of thirty-four Hollywood films from the silent period to the present, M. Elise Marubbio examines the sacrificial role of what she terms the "Celluloid Maiden" -- a young Native woman who allies herself with a white male hero and dies as a result of that choice. Marubbio intertwines theories of colonization, gender, race, and film studies to ground her study in sociohistorical context all in an attempt to define what it means to be an American. As Marubbio charts the consistent depiction of the Celluloid Maiden, she uncovers two primary characterizations -- the Celluloid Princess and the Sexualized Maiden. The archetype for the exotic Celluloid Princess appears in silent films such as Cecil B. DeMille's The Squaw Man (1914) and is thoroughly established in American iconography in Delmer Daves's Broken Arrow (1950). Her more erotic sister, the Sexualized Maiden, emerges as a femme fatale in such films as DeMille's North West Mounted Police (1940), King Vidor's Duel in the Sun (1946), and Charles Warren's Arrowhead (1953). The two characterizations eventually combine to form a hybrid Celluloid Maiden who first appears in John Ford's The Searchers (1956) and reappears in the 1970s and the 1990s in such films as Arthur Penn's Little Big Man (1970) and Michael Apted's Thunderheart (1992). Killing the Indian Maiden reveals a cultural iconography about Native Americans and their role in the frontier embedded in the American psyche. The Native American woman is a racialized and sexualized other -- a conquerable body representing both the seductions and the dangers of the frontier. These films show her being colonized and suffering at the hands of Manifest Destiny and American expansionism, but Marubbio argues that the Native American woman also represents a threat to the idea of a white America. The complexity and longevity of the Celluloid Maiden icon -- persisting into the twenty-first century -- symbolizes an identity crisis about the composition of the American national body that has played over and over throughout different eras and political climates. Ultimately, Marubbio establishes that the ongoing representation of the Celluloid Maiden signals the continuing development and justification of American colonialism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7154-8
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Emergence of the Celluloid Maiden
    (pp. 1-22)

    A NUMBER OF YEARS AGO, while I was wandering through a collection of prints at the University of Arizona’s Museum of Art, an engraving by William Blake caught and held my attention. The image, entitledEurope Supported by Africa and America(1792), presents three young women, scantily clad, dwarfing the landscape on which they stand. The simplicity of Blake’s composition enhances the social commentary woven into the figures, offering a complicated critique of Europe’s colonial relationship with Africa and America. The two darker-skinned women flank Europe, keeping her upright and suggesting their stability in contrast to her weakness; however, the...

  6. Section One: The Celluloid Princess

    • One Death, Gratitude, and the Squaw Man’s Wife: The Celluloid Princess from 1908 to 1931
      (pp. 25-60)

      THE NATIVE AMERICAN AS PALIMPSEST—a textual body effaced, erased, and written over—evokes images of violent silencing. Tellingly, the metaphor also reveals a certain amount of repression, uncertainty, and ambivalence related to the action of reinscribing and covering alternative narratives. The metaphor is particularly relevant to early cinema, which, as Roberta Pearson explains, “reflected and refracted the complex and contradictory position and representation of Native Americans within contemporary U.S. society and culture,” and to early cinema’s representation of the Celluloid Indian Princess.¹ In the early twentieth century, the recent “closing” of the western frontier by the 1890 census, assimilationist...

    • Two White-Painted Lady: The 1950s Celluloid Princess
      (pp. 61-86)

      THIS WELL-KNOWN INTRODUCTION of Sonseeahray from Delmer Daves’s 1950 filmBroken Arrowprecedes the white hero Jeffords’s and the audience’s first encounter with the exceptional Indian woman who will marry him and help bridge the tensions between his culture and hers.¹ As a beautiful young maiden who embraces the white hero, she symbolizes the best of Indian culture and the possibility of assimilation into western European culture. The quote also presents the 1950s paradigm of the Celluloid Indian Princess who aligns herself with a European American colonizer and dies for that choice. Though the 1950s figure is reminiscent of the...

  7. Section Two: The Sexualized Maiden

    • Three What Lies Beneath the Surface: The Sexualized Maiden of the 1940s
      (pp. 89-132)

      LOUVETTE, THE CRAFTY DESTROYER described above, is Cecil B. DeMille’s envisioned Métis woman for his 1940 epicNorthwest Mounted Police. Her original name, Lupette, parodies the word “lupine” as well as the French slang term for a “street girl,” suggesting that she is both sexually promiscuous and innately animalistic.¹ DeMille’s conception of Louvette as a character whose sexual and destructive nature emerges from her mixed-blood ancestry displays elements of the Sexualized Maiden figure that appears in 1940s westerns as a hybrid of the wanton mixed-blood and the femme fatale. The racially based foundation of the Sexualized Maiden is manifested in...

    • Four The Only Good Indian Is a Dead Indian: The Sexualized Maiden of the 1950s and 1960s
      (pp. 133-164)

      THE QUOTES ABOVE, TAKEN FROM four films released between 1953 and 1969, illustrate the diversity in the representations of the Sexualized Maiden character during that time. Familiar stereotypes emerge in these epigraphs, as the films build on two of the basic components that informed the 1940s Sexualized Maiden figure: the femme fatale and the wanton squaw. Rather than adhering to the fairly cohesive set of characterizations of the figure’s predecessor, however, these films highlight, alter, or eliminate aspects of the previous Sexualized Maiden. As a result, the group appears disjointed in its characterization, each film displaying different manifestations of racism...

  8. Section Three: The Hybrid Celluloid Maiden

    • Five Free Love and Violence: “Going Native” with the Celluloid Maiden in the 1970s
      (pp. 167-196)

      A MANIPULATION OF FAMILIAR STEREOTYPES connected with both the Celluloid Princess and the Sexualized Maiden, the hybrid Celluloid Maiden of the 1970s emerges as a symbolically modified offspring of previous Princess figures. The quote above from Jack Crabb, or Little Big Man, as the Cheyennes called him, about his wife Sunshine’s potential to sway him toward “going native” hints at this change. Sunshine and her contemporaries, unlike earlier Princess figures and in direct contrast to their embodiment as assimilable Others, seduce the white hero away from white American culture and “civilization.” Exhibiting popular countercultural and antiestablishment sentiments from the late...

    • Six Ghosts and Vanishing Indian Women: Death of the Celluloid Maiden in the 1990s
      (pp. 197-226)

      THE CELLULOID MAIDEN REAPPEARS in the 1990s, after a hiatus of seventeen years, in a number of films that reaffirm this figure’s ability to adapt to changing cultural trends in representing Native Americans. The figure emerges in a diversity of roles—including an avenging ghost, a political activist, and a mixed-blood Princess who crosses genres and national film boundaries—that reveals the complexity of the figure. Although more contemporary and, in some cases, quite different from past presentations, these uses of the figure stimulate cultural memories of prior Celluloid Maidens through the films’ reliance on, or reference to, previous modes...

  9. Conclusion: Into the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 227-232)

    THE BOMBINGS OF 9/11 and the “war against terror” plunged the nation into another era of national conflict, uncertainty, and questioning about what it means to be an American, what the nation’s role is in the world, and what its political and social boundaries are. In the past, the United States relied on images of the frontier and itself as a frontier nation to answer such questions. According to Fredrick Jackson Turner, whose frontier thesis of 1893 set this notion into play on a grand scale, the frontier in American imagination is an economic, geographical, political, and psychological demarcation between...

  10. Filmography
    (pp. 233-240)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 241-270)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 271-284)
  13. Index
    (pp. 285-298)