"For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all."

-John F. Kennedy in
the introduction to The American Heritage Book of Indians

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Reel Injun and other Native Responses to "Indians" in Mass Media

Reel Injun is a new documentary film that explores the phenomenon of the Hollywood Indian. For over 100 years, Indigenous North Americans have appeared in more than 4000 films.  Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond explores the many depictions of Indians on celluloid and its impact on every filmgoer's understanding or misunderstanding of Native people.

I caught an abbreviated hour long version of Reel Injun on Independent Lens- the award-winning public television series that highlights new drama and documentary films.  I was very impressed with the film and its humorous and poignant insights into the Hollywood Indian.

The most impressive part of the film is its portrayal of Native actors and filmmakers in the earliest days of cinema.  From the silent era through the first talking films, Native people had a surprisingly active role in film production.  It seems only when the studio system became dominant that real Native people took a backseat role (if not wholly disappeared).






Reel Injun proves that one of the most effective ways to examine and question Indigenous depictions in mass media is with mass media itself!  And so long as there have been these Indigenous depictions, so have there been Indigenous people ready to counter them.  Here are a few of those:



Eska Water's new ad campaign: "Eskan Warriors"

Mohawk activist Clifton Nicholas expresses his dismay over a new ad campaign for Eska Water.  It depicts a fictional band of "Eskan Warriors."  According to Nicholas, these ads depict a negative portrayal of Native people even if it is a fictional generic "Native" group.




Time for "THE INDIANS SHOWBAND" to retire!


The Irish showband "The Indians" who perform in stereotypical Indian garb and perform songs like Wigwam Wiggle and Squaws along the Yukon have met their match online.  A protest group on facebook is calling for the group to retire saying they make a mockery of native culture through their stereotypical representation of Native Americans.
 
https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=110714922354367

Here's Wigwam Wiggle:





AIM Santa Barbara takes on The Dudesons

Way back in May 2010, I broke the story about the new MTV show The Dudesons and their tasteless depiction of American Indian culture in the episode Cowboys and Findians.  Here is part one of a three part series of young AIM activists discussing their concerns about The Dudesons.





Ask an Indian: Cultural Appropriation

Simon Moya-Smith is an Oglala Lakota Sioux journalist and activist who describes himself as a "rug lifter" trying to reveal the many American Indian issues swept under the rug.  He blogs over at http://iamnotamascot.blogspot.com/ where his passionate commentary is always good for a hearty laugh and thoughtful reflection.  Here he is decrying Native appropriation while window shopping.




The Stream - Don't Trend on My Culture - Adrienne Keene

Adrienne Keene is a Cherokee blogger and activist who analyzes a constant stream of Native cultural appropriation over at her blog http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/.  Thanks to her prodigious efforts at tracking this phenomenon, she is making appearances in more mainstream media such as this interview on The Stream on Al Jazeera English.





Dr. Greene's AB-original Pain Reliever

And finally here is Oneida actor Graham Greene with a humorous take on Native appropriation in marketing.  Enjoy!






Additional reading:

Reel Injun Discussion Guide

Hollywood's Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film. Edited by Peter C. Rollins and John E. O'Connor.  University of Kentucky Press (2003).

From Drawing on Indians:

Drawing on Indians: The Wacky World of TV Tropes

Forget Avatar: 10 Compelling Films of Real-Life Indigenous Struggle


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2 comments:

  1. Reel Injun was shown for the first time as whole in Paris, monday 10th of october, I wrote a critic about it, if you want to read it and add infos, you're very welcome.http://silverparticules.blogspot.com/2011/10/reel-injun-de-neil-diamond.html

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  2. My blog is bilingual, the English version uselly comes after the French one :)

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