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Hollywood's Indian

Hollywood's Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film

Peter C. Rollins
John E. O’Connor
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: ENL - Enlarged, 2
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Hollywood's Indian
    Book Description:

    Offering both in-depth analyses of specific films and overviews of the industry's output, Hollywood's Indian provides insightful characterizations of the depiction of the Native Americans in film. This updated edition includes a new chapter on Smoke Signals, the groundbreaking independent film written by Sherman Alexie and directed by Chris Eyre. Taken as a whole the essays explore the many ways in which these portrayals have made an impact on our collective cultural life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3165-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Wilcomb E. Washburn

    The image of the American Indian, more than that of any other ethnic group, has been shaped by films. Why? Because the characteristics that define the American Indian are dramatically conveyed by this powerful twentieth-century medium. All American ethnic groups, of course, are defined—stereotyped, if you will—by Hollywood, but no other provides the opportunity to convey that image in a narrative form in terms of rapid physical movement, exotic appearance, violent confrontation, and a spirituality rooted in the natural environment.

    Such characteristics attracted European and American observers long before the advent of film. The image of the Indian...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction. The Study of Hollywood’s Indian: Still on a Scholarly Frontier?
    (pp. 1-11)
    Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor

    The 1992 Columbian quincentenary set into motion a reconsideration of the place of the Native American in our historical memory. A more recent eruption of interest (and controversy) has focused on a proposed Disney historical theme park in Haymarket, Virginia. A local newspaper speculated on how the Native American might be included in a controversial Disney version of history, giving ample evidence of the distance Americans still need to travel along the path toward understanding: “The theme park concept probably never penetrated the thick skulls or shadowy minds of the prehistoric men who once dragged their knuckles across what is...

  6. 1 Absurd Reality II: Hollywood Goes to the Indians
    (pp. 12-26)
    Ted Jojola

    When McMurphy, the character portrayed by actor Jack Nicholson in the fivefold Oscar-winning movieOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest(1975), prods a mute Indian Chief (played by Indian actor Will Sampson) into pronouncing “ahh juicyfruit,” what the audience heard was far removed from the stereotypical “hows,” “ughs,” and “kemosabes” of tinsel moviedom. “Well goddamn, Chief,” counters McMurphy. “And they all think you’re deaf and dumb. Jesus Christ, you fooled them Chief, you fooled them.... You fooled ’em all!” In that simple and fleeting scene, a new generation of hope and anticipation was heralded among Native American moviegoers. Long the...

  7. 2 The White Man’s Indian: An Institutional Approach
    (pp. 27-38)
    John E. O’Connor

    The most obvious explanation for the Native American’s Hollywood image is that the producers, directors, screenwriters, and everyone else associated with the movie industry have inherited a long intellectual and artistic tradition. The perceptions that Europeans and Americans have had of the Native American were both emotional and contradictory. Either an enemy or a friend, he was never an ordinary human being accepted on his own terms. As Robert Berkhofer explains in his bookThe White Man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present(1977), the dominant view of the Indians has reflected primarily what the...

  8. 3 The Indian of the North: Western Traditions and Finnish Indians
    (pp. 39-57)
    Hannu Salmi

    “American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier,” wrote Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893. “This expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character” (184). According to Turner, the frontier was “the meeting point between savagery and civilization” (184). “American character” was, in other words, born out of a contradiction, a duality. “Primitive society” and its “savagery,” although not parts of this character, were essential raw material, or “forces,” for its rebirth. The encounter between “civilized men” and “savages” was therefore a key question...

  9. 4 Trapped in the History of Film: Racial Conflict and Allure in The Vanishing American
    (pp. 58-72)
    Michael J. Riley

    The Vanishing American(1925) stands as a distinct and bittersweet example of the epic silent western. As a compelling—and sometimes contradictory—mixture of stereotype and insightful social commentary, it is an ambitious work aiming to portray the plight of American Indians as the culmination of an inevitable historical process of domination wrought by “progress.” Casting this theme through the story of a group of Navajo and Euro-Americans whose lives become intertwined in the Southwest at the time of World War I, the film centers on a hero named Nophaie “the warrior” (played by Richard Dix). Nophaie is portrayed as...

  10. 5 The Representation of Conquest: John Ford and the Hollywood Indian, (1939–1964)
    (pp. 73-90)
    Ken Nolley

    Not only was John Ford canonized by the first wave of auteurist critics, but his own stubborn attachment to the central myths of Western culture in general and American culture specifically also made his work seem for decades to be commercial Hollywood’s principal representation of the American experience. And because Ford worked so thoroughly within the system rather than in opposition to it, one may be hard pressed to save his oeuvre from one of the most pervasive and damning charges made against the Hollywood tradition—that it was racist and sexist at the core.

    In the late 1990s the...

  11. 6 Cultural Confusion: Broken Arrow (1950)
    (pp. 91-106)
    Frank Manchel

    For many people, Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans in the Western film provides a moral gauge not only for the history of our nation but also for the film industry.¹ Nowhere is this more evident than in the movies about the taming of the wilderness, where our modern myth makers recount the fate of Native Americans, lumped all together, who stood in the way of Manifest Destiny.

    Central to any revisionist approach is an awareness that the conflicts between Euro-Americans and Native Americans over the settling of the West began during the days of Columbus and not in the 1800s....

  12. 7 The Hollywood Indian versus Native Americans: Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969)
    (pp. 107-120)
    James A. Sandos and Larry E. Burgess

    Students of American film have long noted the fascinating connections between Hollywood portrayals of major social issues and the conflicting tensions in the American society that produced them (O’Connor and Jackson; Rollins,Hollywood as Historian;Slotkin). An ostensible film biography of Emiliano Zapata, famed leader of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, tells us nothing about Zapata’s agrarian radicalism, his anarchist-communist notions of taking land from the rich and distributing it among the poor according to their needs. Instead, it focuses on his opposition to dictatorship. InViva Zapata!(Twentieth Century-Fox, 1952), historian Paul Vanderwood persuasively argues, we see director Elia...

  13. 8 Native Americans in a Revisionist Western: Little Big Man (1970)
    (pp. 121-136)
    Margo Kasdan and Susan Tavernetii

    Arthur Penn’sLittle Big Maninverts the common mythologies of the American frontier usually presented in the Western film genre. The film is recognizably a Western. Like others, it is set in the post–Civil War period during the great westward expansion that took place between 1865 and 1890, on the first leg of the journey west, on the Great Plains. Few Westerns are complete without a conflict between Indians and whites, andLittle Big Manis no exception. Although the film uses established generic conventions, within the form it does something very innovative: it reconsiders the impact of westward...

  14. 9 Driving the Red Road: Powwow Highway (1989)
    (pp. 137-152)
    Eric Gary Anderson

    The most popular video store in Stillwater, Oklahoma, files Jonathan Wacks’s 1989 filmPowwow Highwayunder Comedy, in betweenPorky’s2 andPrelude to a Kiss.Ask forPowwow Highwayin Stillwater’s second most popular video store and you will be directed to the Action-Adventure section, where the videotape rests alongsideA Prayer for the Dyingon the right andThe Power of the Ninjitsuon the left. It’s equally at home, and equally not at home, as a Western, a picaresque or “road” movie, a buddy film, a cult film¹, and, as Ted Jojola describes it, a “sleeper B-film”...

  15. 10 “Going Indian”: Dances With Wolves (1990)
    (pp. 153-169)
    Robert Baird

    Taken together, the three quotes above are good examples of a very old—yet ongoing—process of the American imagination: the white discovery of and the renaming and adoption into the tribal society of the American Indian. In this essay¹ I describe a mythopoeic process that recurs often enough in American history to merit more attention, especially after the apparent resurrection and further development of this gesture in Kevin Costner’s tremendously popularDances With Wolves,released too long since any other great, epic Western to be anything but a boondoggle—or so we thought until “Costner’s folly” was seen by...

  16. 11 Deconstructing an American Myth: The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
    (pp. 170-186)
    Jeffrey Walker

    Since its initial two-volume publication on February 6, 1826, by the Philadelphia publishing house of Carey and Lea, James Fenimore Cooper’sThe Last of the Mohicans; A Narrative of 1757has probably generated more attention from Hollywood filmmakers than any other American novel. From its first adaptations in 1909 as a D. W. Griffith one-reeler and in 1911 as two different one-reelers by the Powers and Thanhouser Film Companies to its latest incarnation in 1992 as a Michael Mann potboiler, more than a dozen interpretations of the novel have appeared in various forms: silent picture, Mascot serial, animated version, BBC...

  17. 12 Playing Indian in the Nineties: Pocahontas and The Indian in the Cupboard
    (pp. 187-205)
    Pauline Turner Strong

    Hollywood has long taken a leading role in shaping the American tradition of “playing Indian.” This chapter considers how this tradition is mobilized in two family films released in 1995: Disney’s heavily marketedPocahontasand the Columbia/Paramount adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks’s popular children’s novelThe Indian in the Cupboard.Borrowing a concept from Donna Haraway, I would place my “situated knowledge” of these films and their associated playthings at the intersection of, first, my scholarly interest in the production and significance of imagined Indians in Anglo-American culture; second, my memories of “playing Indian” at school, at summer camp, and...

  18. 13 This Is What It Means to Say Smoke Signals: Native American Cultural Sovereignty
    (pp. 206-228)
    Amanda J. Cobb

    Hollywood’s Indian may no longer belong solely to Hollywood. In 1998, the “bona fide Native director” that Ted Jojola prophesied finally broke into the ranks of Hollywood and did, indeed, challenge the conventional credos of the industry from within.Smoke Signals,the first feature film written, directed, acted, and co-produced by Native Americans is a singular achievement. This may, at first, seem overstated: how can this effort of a first-time director—an eighty-nine minute, low-budget, road trip/buddy movie starring relatively unknown Native American actors—be much of an achievement of any kind? But when placed in the context of the long...

  19. Bibliography. Western Films: The Context for Hollywood’s Indian
    (pp. 229-233)
    Steven Mintz
  20. Contributors
    (pp. 234-238)
  21. Index
    (pp. 239-251)