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Core Discovery Shared Places An Introduction to Tribal Cultures and Histories

by: Vern Deckow

Core Discovery Shared Places An Introduction to Tribal Cultures and Histories CORE 171

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Vern Deckow
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Janis Johnson

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Date Created: 10/23/15
Celluloid Indians Native Americans and Film Jacquelyn Kilpatrick University of Nebraska Press Lincoln and London Introduction In undertaking an exploration of Native American representation in film it is tempting to get caught up in questions of correctness political and otherwise authenticityquot and historical accuracyquot These are appropriate questions because the history and the cultures of Native Americans have been miscommunicated in lms and the dis tortions have been accepted as truth with sometimes disastrous results Most of the studies ofNative Americans in film have therefore focused on an analysis ofstereotypes in terms oftheir characterological socio logical and historical plausibility Given the misuses to which Native American images have been put these studies tend to have an irritated ifnot genuinely angry tone They also have an understandable preoc cupation with realism in the interest of correcting errors and distor tions This desire to set the record straight is true for publications from a hundred years ago and for current articles and reviews on films such as Disney s Pacahontas 1995 and Michael Mann s Last vfrhe Mohiram 1993 Where the focus is generally a heated defense ofa particular ver sion of reality This book also deals extensively with questions ofhistorical and socio logical reality in the depiction of Native Americans in film it must do so because the distortions have been both incredibly blatant and gen erally unquestioned by reviewers of the day as well as viewing audi ences However this study places those pseudorealities in the histori cal and social context within which they were devised and consumed Film is more than the instrument ofa representation it is also the object of representation It is not a re ection or a refraction of the real instead it is like a photograph of the mirrored re ection ofa painted image The image perceived by a lm s audience has passed through layers ofinterpretation and representation To understand the Holly wood Indianquot it is necessary to peel back these layers and place them in perspective This requires a delicate balancing act when evaluating de XVi Irilrodurrion pictions of Nativ 39 39 The lms must b egxg cfsis in over a hundred years offilm history u3221312233211532 393 mm e i ms time of al milieu into which it was born At the were and are living human beings not and therefore questions of appropriate 9 a 5 n a r V w o D L m 1 o 39u 9 5 O evanescent avatars of alterity depiction must be addressed Film liket exts ofall sorts dialo ican must enter what Mikhail Bakhtin 39 V cal fuztefanCCYgfitated and tenSion lled environment 3 Like all f led 3 those cum dmfs engage in a political struggle for supremac drfm at struggle is one e and represented in lm it would seenl thlt tlor W1 a medium that 39 39 39 a m cm for th I 39 strives intentionall or uni What 0y e status ofauthoritative discourse for the l me F taln expect from in this case Native cult N word on or a t la 0 39 y mes gue to truly cXIst the represented subject must be bl t a e to talk bak All 1H 1 an LIES 101 0 er V r t t i t l C nSider P q EC 615 do Natl eAmc I u to talk back 39 found in recent fi rected andor acted by Native Americans So What Exactly Are the Stereotypes IS 0 exan nest e a ers of s c al 1dE o rica 31d inn 1 h b k l h I 0 g 1 p y K i ly Simple stereotypes of Native ofthe stereotype not be limited erroneous secondhand or un of the term stereotype below are f H plex representations ofNative SOCIOIO i 39 u y eveloped later g Theresa Perkins states that sltereotypes are ev l 39 a native i Zas such are central to interpreting nc u ing one s own 3 In the building of We see this self identification by upleinerge as primary in importance mined by its relations y ike all national identities is deter Where the Euro An 39 ps39to other cultures For an immigrant natio came 1 I ierican is anything but homo yen l i n i c early definable Other lo Gus He Namc be ne way to see I i Others is to 100k a group defines itself to itself as well as t t ose it makes its heroes The self definit39 0 ion at l g argely because American identit Iiiradiation xvii stake in most films with a Native American presence has been that ofa EuroAmerican westering male When we look at the writing ofjamcs Feniinore Cooper or the films ofjohn Ford we see this American self dcfinition repeatedly reinforced by its juxtaposition to the image of Na tive Americans In that way the challenge presented by the savages can be interpreted as a confirmation ofthe dominant value structure The stereotypes of Native Americans in film can be divided into three Categories mental sexual and spiritual the most meaningful of which is probably the mental Although the actual words stupid or dumb are seldom seen in descrip tions of Natives perhaps because fighting a stupid enemy or having a dumb sidekick is not especially attering Native peoples have been firmly placed in the lower echelons of intelligence by many Euro Ainericans since first contact was made Benevolent terms such as in nocentquot primitive or unsaved indicate a lesser intelligence and the more antagonistic descriptors certainly point to comparative dim ness For instance while the word stupid does not imply lack ofcleanli ness the word dirty does imply stupidity and we are all familiar with the terms dirty redsaim lthy heathen and so forth This follows the pat tern of stereotype development Perkins notes The most important and the amnion feature ofthe stereotypes ofthe major structural groups relates to their mental abilities In each case the oppressed group is Char acterized as innater less intelligent 1 As we will see these ideas about Native intelligence took visible form in film mental acuity has not generally been the celluloid Indian s strong suit The presumed lack of mental prowess may have something to do with the image ofthe Native American as intensely sexual more crea ture than human more bestial than celestial Sexuality has historically constituted an important dimension ofHollywood Indians both male and female producing a very scary character We repeatedly see the lustful savage attacking the white woman requiring that he be killed immediately And we have the lovely Indian princessquot who is enor mously attractive but must die before any real damage is done to the purity ofthe gene pool MiscegeiiatiOIi has historically been a taboo for the Hollywood Indian The spirituality ofNative Americans is brushed offas primitive or heathen in many run ofthemill westerns I aradoxically the percep tion ofan inherent native closeness to the earth has led some to endow Native peoples with a certain naturebased nobility and spirituality the Noble Savage the alter ego ofthe Bloodthirsty Savage on and off xviii Introduttinn the screen This presumed spirituality and closeness to the earth has spurred in recent years the creation ofa related stereotype the Natural Ecologist lt would be impossible to discuss even marginally all the lms made during the last hundred years that have in one way or another made use oflndians real or imagined This study includes only a small percent age of them and they are presented in roughly chronological order A complete analysis ofeach lm is not the purpose ofthis book the lms have been chosen because they are examples of stereotype develop ment or use or because they show deconstructions of the stereotype or because they markedly re ect mainstream American society39s per ception at a speci c point in history Plot lines have been included only as far as is necessary to ensure understanding for viewers who may not have seen the lm lately or at all Some lms are dealt with in depth others have been mentioned only for a particular element that explicates the depiction ofAmerican Indians in lm 3 The Cowboy Talkies of the 19305 194bs and 19503 I tell the bus driver but he doesn t hear Keep to the hills and avoid America ifyou can I39m a fugitive from bad futureless dreams in Southern Californiaquot Simon Ortiz East ofSan Diego Ehe most important development in the lm industry after the inven tion ofthe rst camera and projector was sound Careers took immedi ate turns as audiences rst began to hear their idols voices ind 391 ne set of considerations developed for the directors Not only weie tli words of more inportance s0 was the dicgetic noise comin r from Within the scene and nondiegetic noise such as a voice overf With sound the nuances ofstory lines became more accessible and themelo dramatic form ofthe Silents appeared unsophisticated by comparison Cinema tic Language As previously noted in the early sound lms stereotypes of Native Americans were conveyed to a large degree by language or perha s more importantly the lack oflanguage The signs that accdm anifd the Indians of the silent lm the scowling face and rigid bod p were carried over to the sound western as the natural pose of a yNatiw American Rarer were Indians heard and when they were the wert39 depressmgly devoid of humor although humor was oftenidireZted 391 them Most had little to say beyond the ubiquitous grunt which could The Cowboy Valvim 37 mean anything from I m pleased to Scalp him kill him and then tie him over an anthillquot Aside from the obvious boundaries of language difference the differences between English and Navajo for instance there exists a strati cation within languages Differences between generations pro fessions races genders politics time space and innumerable other classi cations produce differences in speech The human voice holds within it a code that humans read almost instinctively and when lan guage is missing the instinct is generally to place the voiceless into the margins which is exactly where most lmic minorities have histori caIIy resided But it was not much better when directors and script writers gave their Indians voices in the early westerns Since all voices in lm come equipped with an accent and an intonation a voice can make a com ment that is very different from the words spoken For instance if an Indian says White man speaks with forked tonguequot he is doing more than simply dropping the articles A command of English has been written out ofthe script already in addition the delivery ofsuch a line was usually either ponderously slow or angry a translation into voice ofthe stoic stonefaced bloodthirstylredskin in silent movies which effectively perpetuated the stereotypes of Native Americans as dim witted or violent or possibly both Use of an aliensounding language that was rarely a genuine native language also contributed to the distancing and Othering of Native Americans for mainstream audiences Hollywood had its own ideas of what an Indian sounded like and the industry went to fairly extreme lengths to get the authentic sound In Scouts to Ilzr Resale I939 for instance the Indians were given a Hollywood Indian dialect by running their normal English dialogue backwards By printing the picture in reverse a perfect lip sync was maintained and a new Indian lan guage was born2 As in silent lms body language continued to be an important form of communication Audiences were already accustomed to the clas sicquot poses of cinematic Indians and the melodramatic sweep of ges tures But the talkies as an audiovisual medium were able to combine words with gestures facial expressions with body movements to create more complex meanings This discursive sum allowed for greater char acter development since one message I love you could be rendered in body language while a contradictory message I hate you was deliv 38 The Cuwboy 39I allzi cx ered orally Many romantic comedies depended on this push mepull you communication but the same idea worked in slightly more subtle but extremely effective ways in the early westerns Me friend to whiteeyes could be delivered by a very dignified and obviously powerful chief but his language was a clue that lie was a part ofthe past not a part ofthe audience s world Since a number oflawmakers educators and even Hollywood producers placed as the test ofcultural survival the ability to assimilate many in the audience presumed that the chiefwas an anachronism at best linguistically and perhaps men tally de cient and bound to losedievanish A form oflaiiguage in film that is rarely addressed is the written word Whether a newspaper headline a signpost or a subtitle written language can play an important part in a film Subtitles were not often used in the earlier Hollywood westerns partly because they would have looked old fashioned to audiences who remembered the silent era But more importantly subtitles were generally unnecessary because the words and thoughts of Indians were not particularly important to most scripts Genuine Native languages were rarely used and when a white hero learned to speak an Indian language the script conveniently reproduced it in English as in Broken Arrow 1950 and hundreds of other films There have ofcourse been a few exceptions a fairly recent one is Dances With Wall t S 1990 in which the Lakota language was spo ken with a fair degree of accuracy and subtitles were used The effect was one of privileging a Native language and therefore culture in a manner that Hollywood movies have rarely attempted Music and noise also function as languages in film The lyrics on soundtracks can often transfer information and emotion even more ef fectively than dialogue They communicate with an audience on a level that adds to the visceral impact of melody and tone But even without words music can generate lyrics within the consciousness of the viewer Robert Stain cites as an example Kubrick39s use ofthe melody without words to Try a Little Tenderness during a visual image of nuclear bombs dropping in Dr Strangcluve 19633 As noted before the tom tomquot beat ofdrums signal to an Ameri can audience that Indians are about to appear Actual Native forms of music are rarely heard probably because they are so different from what mainstream audiences would expect In the rare instances in which Indian music and dance are presented as in the later film A Man Called H0758 1970 they are generally portrayed as simultaneously primitive and exotic The wild drumming movements and costumes The Cowlin 39Iiillaicx 39 in addition to the hero s neardelirium produce a chaotic image closely resembling a Dionysian orgy Purpose and beauty are absent from the scene Noises are not without purpose either Whether an obvious sound such as that ofa knife being sharpened or one lost in the background like crickets in a forest noise communicates place time and circum stance in de nite though generally subconscious ways When a charac ter in a western appears and the noise in the background is a low rattle the audience makes an obvious association between the character and a rattlesnake and identifies him as the dangerous and sneaky villain There is also the language ofthe Camera itself For instance a direc tor can position a camera to look up toquot a character John Wayne was most often lmed from a low angle giving him a superior position ap propriate to his role as hero It can also overlook a person or place such as the positioning of camera angles to look down onquot Indian camps or women ofany race The Frontier The most common motifs in the western genre owe their genesis to the ideas articulated by Fredrick Jackson Turner in 1893 In a paper deliv ered to the American Historical Association he presented his Frontier Thesis It was based on prevalent ideas ofthe late nineteenth century regarding social progress and evolution in which the Native American Was presented as an obstacle to the civilizing ofthe Continent a stage in the evolution of human society that preceded agrarian development which in turn would lead to full edged urban civilization4 Turner described the settling ofthe West as the experience that more than any other formed American identity It was the proving ground where civilization met the wilderness and overcame it with courage in genuity and self reliance This idea of what the frontier represented was so pervasive that it found itself naturally at home in history text books across the nation for much of the twentieth century For most Americans the frontier was cherished as a locus ofultimate challenge a right of passage through which the civilized white American39male earned his superior position on the continent and in the world This is at least part of the reason westerns have historically been most popular when poverty and unemployment were at their worst5 During the De pression for example thelandless moneyless and hopeless could lose themselves in a fantasy ofa time when all it took to make itquot was hard work and courage 40 The Cowboy Talkie Turner s thesis represents a set ofvalues that did not take into consid eration the very real and fundamental differences in the American white and Indian experience and landscape The Turneresque nature ofthe western genre in novels and film clearly positions the American Indian as the savage bloodthirsty or otherwise who is part ofthe wil derness that civilization must overcome in order to bring order to a wild continent Social historians have begun to rethink this View and to de ne the term omirr not as the last outpost ofcivilization but rather as the shift ing point of contact between cultures As Alfonso Ortiz notes we must remind each new generation that one culture s frontier may be an other culture s backwater or backyardn6 Given the pervasiveness of the frontier mythos it is likely that the western lms ofthe first halfofthe twentieth century would lack accu racy and subtlety in their portrayal ofNative peoples The fundamental importance of that misportrayal is that it is tied to the formulation of the American myth and the development ofthe allAmerican hero National Policy in the Early Twentieth Century While Hollywood was inventing and reinventing the celluloid Indian Native peoples were experiencing the effects ofa series of changes in US federal policy In 1924 the Indian Citizenship Act gave us citi zenship to every Native American born on USi property In 1928 the Institute for Government Research Brookings Institution published the Meriam Report which for over twenty years was regarded by law makers as a trustworthy description ofthe Indian situation One ofthe major tenets of the report was that American Indians wish to remain Indians to preserve what they have inherited from their fathers In this desire they are supported by intelligent liberal whites who nd real merit in their art music religion form ofgovernment and other things which may be coverpd by the broad term culture 7 During the Roosevelt administration Collier became Commis sioner ofthe Bureau ofIndian Affairs and he promoted his own views ofwhat the American Indian needed He battled Congress the bureau crats the missionaries and even the Native Americans who disagreed with his liberal though paternalistic ideas He and his supporters devel oped one ofthe most important pieces oflegislation to pass in Congress during the rst four decades of the twentieth century the Wheeler Howard Act of 1934 also known as the Indian Reorganization Act The result ofa long ght this act reversed the policy ofallotment and The Cowboy Tilkit s 41 encouraged tribal organization In his Animal Reporroftlze Commissioner uflndian A zirs in 1934 Collier referred to the act as repair workquot and pointed out that Congress and the President recognized that the cu mulative loss ofland brought about by the allotment system a loss reaching ninety million acres two thirds ofthe land heritage ofthe Indian race in 1887 had robbed the Indians in large part ofthe neces sary basis for self support 4 The WheelerHoward Act provided the mechanisms for tribal governments to organize and interact with state and federal governments and was a signi cant step forward in Native American self rule That the Wheeler Howard Act made its way into law given the con flicted attitudes about American Indians during the 19203 can be par tially explained by the Depression Great numbers OfEuroAmericans found themselves in an economic no man sland or worse and this en gendered more sympathy for the disenfranchised Native Americans In addition it seemed that the American ideals ofindividualism and the power ofcivilized industrial society had failed and the preconceptions held ofthe noble savage began to make a kind ofsensei Still the 1934 Indian Congress called by Collier to explain the Wheeler Howard Act met with biased news reporting that must have had an impact on public attitudes Journalism historian Mary Ann Weston noted that when the three day meeting was distilled into a short report in Time for example the delegates became relics of the past who shuf ed into Rapid City made camp not in claypainted buffalo hide wikiups but in closed government school buildings and met not crouched around council fires but seated in armchairs in an oakpaneled room That article goes on to report that tlhree hundred years of suspicion stared from his copper skinned listeners39 eyes as Collier urged the Indians to support the New Deal Collier was quoted at length but the Indians were not It would appear that in the 1930s views ofNative Americans contin ued to be distorted and mutable ranging from sympathetic or empa thetic to hostile Ifarticles like the one in Time are any indication the general public still thought of Native Americans as shuf ing red skinned primitives more at home in a tent than a house At best they were looked on nostalgically as relics ofthe past In 1933Parer1ts Maga zine printed an article advising parents to let their children play In dianquot because the values of Indian life were good ones but the entire article was written referring to the American Indian in the past tense The same year Scienti c American ran an article entitled The Disap 42 The Cowboy 39litlli39itu39 pearance ofthe Red Man39s Culturequot which sadly reported that the In dian is now a creature ofthe past who can be studied mostly in books and museumsquot A Question ofReal Estate In The Legacy of Conquest Patricia Limerick wrote If Hollywood Wanted to capture the emotional center of Western history its movies would be about real estate John Wayne would have been neither a gun ghter nor a sheriff but a surveyor speculator or claims lawyerquot She makes the point that the intersection ofraces and the allocation ofprop erty uni ed Western history since that history has been an ongoing competition for legitimacy for the right to claim for oneself and sometimes for one39s group the status oflegitimate bene ciary of West ernresotirces The quest for land was from the rst a primary motivation for immi gration to the continent and it is the idea that everyone can own a piece ofAnierica that has made the American national identity so unique In the western movie the necessary obstacle against which the hero strug gles in the acquisition of his rightful place is the American Indian who happened to have been keeping the seat warm for twenty thou sand years or so The western movie accurately ifunintentionally dis plays the mental gymnastics the settlers and pioneers had to perform in order to declare the land their own The rst requirement for validation ofland seizure is that the land be empty That was no problem since a large portion of the western United States was inhabited by nomadic tribes that followed the buf falo in portable housing That Indians in the Southwest had been suc cessful agrarians for thousands of years was perhaps the most dif cult fact to rationalize but the tribes in the East and Southeast had also been settled farmers so there was precedence at least Native groups had complex cultural traditions but they were oralbased so Natives were perceived by many as effectively having no history at all The land they lived on was thus a historyless land and therefore the white settlers could give the land not only purpose but also historical ties in short civilization Allegheny Uprising 1939 Though impressive the land depicted in westerns is often arid or wild and therefore oflittlt value as raw land The value then lies in the sacri ce and hard work poured into the land by the settlers In lms The Canhay 39Ihlkit39x 43 such as William Seiter s Allegheny Uprising starring John Wayne the appropriation ofthe land isjusti ed by the labor invested by the settler who has made the uncharted wilderness his home and assumed his position as the natural Proprietor The land becomes the fruit ofhis labor and his physical and emotional investments give him a moral right to it In Seiter s lm the uprising in the Allegheny Mountains at first ap pears to be an Indian uprising The hero and his sidekick have been cap tured by Indians and have been living with them as blood brothersquot for three years while the English and French battle each other for the new land 0quot thC hero39s return we find that he is the nest Indian fighter of them all that he refers to his blood brothers as painted devils and that he echoes the disdain of his friend who says the only trustworthy Indian is a dead Indian When the local Indians make their only appearance in the lm after we hear they have killed a whole set tlement and scalped a schoolroom full of children the hero leads the chase The white pursuers paint their faces and chests with bear grease and charcoal smear some ridiculous looking war paint over that and don some scarves to cover their heads Looking more like pirates than Indians offthey go to rescue two captive children The Indians in this lm are not very intelligent and as they wade along knee deep in the river the hero and his bandjump them from trees in what looks like a parody ofCooper s Stupid Indian Tricks That is the last we see ofthe Indians Again the white hero is able to outIndianquot the Indians becoming a superior form ofnative ghter and supplanting the vanishing In dian In Allegheny Uprising the Indians serve to present a real danger are rmly placed as inferior savage beings undeserving ofthe land and then conveniently disappear while the community ghts its own allies the British for control ofthe land Allegheny Uprising is an interesting display of colonialism at work The heroic settlers are colonists and imperialists but they are ghting the represematives ofthe mother country which also presents them as the colonized The historical layers of colonialism are transparent as are the early to mid twentieth century attitudes prejudices and ste reotypes woven through the lm The EuroAmerican Hero and American Land john Wayne is one ofAmerica s favorite heroes well recognized as the quintessential American male during the whole ofhis long career His 2 From William Seiter s Allegheny Uprising 1939 Photo Museum ofModcrn Art Film Stills Archive courtesy okao Radio Pictures Inc on screen persona made him a hero and that persona was initially de veloped in the western As Louis Owens has commented tlhe essen tial truth about the great American hero however is its falseness And that falseness is illuminated brilliantly in the shapeshifting that al lowed a young Iowan named Marion Morrison Uohn Wayne to jour ney into the mythical American West and become something grand and new and strangely pure 392 This new American hero was idolized suggesting he embodied the values mainstream America held most dear and his attitudes including those regarding American Indians were generally indicative ofthe atti tudes ofthe majority ot39white citizens His attitude toward American Indians can be summed up in his own words during a Playboy inter view I don t Feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from thenL There were great numbers it people who needed new land and The Coriliin 39I alleie 45 the Indians were sel shly trying to keep it for themselves39 This is an interesting attitude for a man or a nation that feels not only a right but a duty to protect hisit ownership ofthe land For Inany EuroAmericans land that was not in some way used was wasted To use land properly one should invest oneselfin that land make something ofit as did the settlers in Allegheny Uprising Here the mainstream idealization ofthe private family farm is presented as obvi ously superior to the Indian attitude toward land where all was held communally The general assumption was that the Indian was not using the land properly and therefore dispossession was not only inevi table but also righteous The concept ofland as property is one ofthe fundamental ideas upon which the American ideal offreedom is based Ifone owm the land one lives upon security is nearly absolute Since American Indians had not generally adhered to the principles of individual ownership their claims were easily ignored and the settling ofthe West became a heroic enterprise As Virginia Wexman points out The Western understands possession of the land as an integral part ofits theme ofdynastic progression for land is seen both as a place that binds the family together as a physical unit and a source of wealth that binds them together as an economic unit Significantly the production of Westerns languished during the 19305 when the ideal ofthe family on the land was seriously endangered by the eco nomic hardship to farmers brought about by the Depression By contrast the heyday ofthe sound Western occurred during the 1950s when the development ofsuburbia was fed by the nostalgic fantasy olithe family on the land that the Western promotedquot Since land was imperative to the settlers and since that land was not actually empty but occupied by hundreds of different peoples it was necessary not only in the actual westward movement but also in the de piction ofthat movement in the western lm to provide some Way of exculpating the ambitions ofthose settlers From the nineteenth to the mid twentieth century a theory that helped support that exculpation was scientific racismquot 39 Scienti c Racism This View divided the people of the world into three separate and dis tinct races according to those phenotypical appearances observable to the naked eye The three races were dubbed Caucasian white Ne 46 The Cowboy Talkie groid black and Mongoloid red yellow and brown and use of these divisions replaced the cumbersome and often vexing problems as sociated with differences Otherness due to religion culture and environment Differences that appeared biological and natural were much easier to distinguish and manipulate 393 The scientific basis ofthis approach downplayed the historical role of ambition and greed as motivating factors and provided a seemingly empirical foundation to the nostalgic views of many Americans Iii stead of approaching the American Indian relativistically as another ethnicity or culture the more scientific term race explained differ ences and helped vindicate Darwinistic ranking According to Social Darwinism the fittest survive and those who do not survive become extinct because they are inCapable ofevolving and even Francis Park man once believed the Indian unchangeable He said Some races ofnien seem molded in wax soft and melting at once plastic and feeble Some races like some metals combine the greatest exibility with the greatest strength But the Indian is hewn ofrock You cannot change the fOrm without destruction of the substance Such at least has too often proved the case Races ofinferior energy have possessed a power ofexpansion and assimilation to which he is a Stranger and it is this fixed and rigid quality which has proved his ruin He will not learn the arts of civilization and he and his forest must perish togetherquotquot Almost one hundred years After l arknian s lament many Americans if they weren t convinced that Natives had indeed perished saw them as immutable forever stuck in the nineteenth century A vast majority ofthe Mexican population is iiir39siizo ofinixed Spanish and Indian blood397 and therefore they too were classi ed as Mon goloid Attitlltles toward Mexicans and Indians were often similar as exemplified in the testimony ofa Los Angeles Sheriff s deputy during a 1943 murder trial recounted by Wexman The Sheriff39s deputy identi fied the Mexican defendants as Indian and went on to state that the In dian from AlaSka t0 Patagonia is evidently oriental in background At least he shows many ofthe oriental characteristics especially so in his utter disregard for the value oflife He concluded that such qualities were biological one cannot change the spots ofa leopard 39V39 One could make a good case for this attitude resulting as much from vngch 0 Wfstcm lms as exposure to scientific racism and it is diffi t9 Kgy mrmme when or lfthis View produced the western or west Thc Cmuboy Talkies 47 ems began producing this view In either case by the time sound films became the norm Indians had almost completely ceased to be depicted as mistreated noble savages With tlie sound western came anion slaught ofcelluloid liidiaii attacks that reinforced the attitudes ofView ers such as the Los Angeles sheriff s deputy I Owens makes the point that the dominant culture in this case the white filmmaker has had no way ofreally knowing the Native Other and is not capable of sincerely questioning the epistemological foun dations ofthe dominant cultural center and simply cannot compre hend that Other way of knowingquot This is the problem With most western films from the first halfofthe twentieth century Therewas lit tle or no in depth questioning of the rectitude of Euro American na tional identity the stereotypes it manufactures for its Others or the effects ofits inventions The Indian is defeated before llt lni begins because Indian and white are allowed to connect usually violently but never overlap Such is the requirement and effects of manifest destiny and the Cultural frontier The celluloid Indians could not be allowed to win They had to remain consciously Other and they had tolin one or many ways be held as inferior As Churchill quotes film director Stephan Feraca saying in I964 Now those movie Indians wearing all those feathers can t come out as human beings They re not expected to come out as human beings because I think the American people do not regard them as wholly human We must remember that many many American children believe that feathers grow out oflndian heads 7 Frozen Time and PseudoHistory Most films made in America that portray Indians are set in the nine teeiith century Virtually all westerns take place between 1825 and 1880 a period of fifty five years a minute part ofa history that goes back thousands of years There is no prewhite world in these films and conversely rarely a modern Indian The pseudohistoryquot of American Indians is as Alfonso Ortin his stated so at odds with the facts that Indians often simply ignore lt Ignoring it has been the response until the recent past because Native Americans have had few opportunities to give voice to a counterdis course ofliberation 39l39he stereotypes fueling this pseudo history were so ludicrous that most Native American aCtors of the early westerns found them hu m m usr 1 I944 Twenti h Century Fox made the movie Bu alo Bill and Navajos were brought from Tuba City Arizona to the Utah 48 The Cowboy Talkies mountains to play Cheyennes and Sioux In a 1944 review James Den ton reported on their activities The Indians lined up before the wardrobe tent and costumes were handed out They had to be shown how to wear the feathered head dress leather breechcs and fringed leather shirts They didn t think this was the kind ofthing to wear in that summer heat but they put their costumes on uncomplainingly When it came time to have the war paint smeared on their faces by the makeup experts from Hollywood the Navahos sit objected at first They thought this was a bit thick and that Hollywood was overdoing the thing They laughed and joked over their cos tumes When ChiefThundercloud Cherokee actor Victor Dan iels explained a torture scene in the picture wherein the Cheyenne proved his bravery by having his back cut the Navahos sic laughed uproariously they thought such action was downright nonsense There is nothing stoic about the Navahos sit They do not hear pain with fortitude nor do they practice self torture as a Sign ofbravery 32 John Price describes the development of the pseudo history of whiteIndian interaction as a movie story told by White American pro ducers and directors to a white North American audience assuming and building the plot from antiIndian attitudes and prejudicesquot23 Na tive Americans became part of the landscape as the history of the West became an allegorical history and the western became a system ofsym bols supporting a fictional history The American filmmakers did what thousands ofyears ofsocial evolution and the threat ofwhite encroach ment could not do they created an homogenized Indian 1 I Northwest Passage 1940 Americans ofthe forties and fties rarely overtly questioned the images Hollywood provided ofthe American Indian and movies with slaugh ters of and by Native Americans were so accepted that they were used to teach children in public schools For instance the 1940 film Northwest Passage was chosen by the Department of Secondary Teachers of the National Education Association for study because Rogers ofRogers Rangers comes to personify man39s refusal to bow to physical forces and the success of this hardy band of early pioneers symbolizes our own struggle against bitter enemies in the modern world 25 The Photo play Studies guide for teachers deals with the novel and its adaptation to the screen gives some inside scoopquot on the making of the film and The Cowboy Talkies 49 then offers Suggestions for using the film in English history art geog raphy and even in clothing and shop classes According to the teacher s guide Northwest Passage is the story ofa band of patriotic Americans as they march from Crown Point in New England to the Native village of St Francis in Canada As this expedition extended from September 13 1759 to October 31 ofthe same year it covers only a very small period ofthe French and Indian War However its military importance was great From this little Indian town yearly came those horrible attacks upon the England settlers when so many defenseless farmers and their families were killed or captured This victory opened the entire interior of New England and promised safety to the pioneers who settled in the rich valleys Mr Roberts author of Northwest Passage has suc cecdcd where so many American writers have failed for he has more freshness and real humanity in his major characters than most chron iclers Through his fine assortment oftypes among his minor charac ters we glimpse early American characteristics ofwhich we are right fully proud26 The characters that the guide suggests rightfully deserve praise are men who are in the service oftheir country however as depicted in the film many such as the second lead played by Robert Youngwere evidently inducted while drunk They are attired in colored fringed buckskin so they obviously admire the dress if not the culture of the Native Americans enough to appropriate their identities to a large de gree and they look upon their attack on the village as a righteous act One pioneer even nds a pair of moccasins in the ruins and puts them on his own feet with great glee and no pangs ofconscience They liber ate the proverbial white woman captive and then they burn the Village t0 the ground With the exception of the inarticulate guide whom Rogers Spencer Tracy is trying to sober up when We first meet him theIndians are presented as the usual bloodthirsty bunch of heathen deVils who get What they deserve for attacking innocent settlers The only other indi Vidual Indian we meet is the bdy Rogers saves and who becomes part ofthe group on the trip home The boy ofcourse comes to admire his white saviors even though he has seen them kill his relatives and burn his home To encourage English teachers to use the film in their classes the Photoplay Studies guide quotes the authorofNorthuest Passage Kenneth 50 The Cowboy Iiilku39x Roberts I have a theory that history can be most effectively told in the form offiction because only in the writing offiction that stands the test oftruth do falsities come to the surfacequot It is small wonder that Native Americans either laughed at the images ignored them or sat in stunned silence That their ancestors were used as metaphors for Hitler s Nazis whom many Native Americans were then ghting would do little to bolster pride in Native heritage In 1940 Americans were especially interested in those American characteristics to which the guide refers because World War II was stressing the limits ofAmerican physical emotional and economic re sources and patriotism and bravery were held as the ultimate American virtues r Native Americans and World War II American Indian heroism during the war made it more difficult to think ofNative peoples as the savages ofNerthwcst Passage Men such as Major General Clarence Tinker the Navajo code talkers and Ira Hayes who was photographed raising the flag with five others on Iwo Jima elevated to heroic stature American Indian soldiers in the armed services which numbered as many as twentyfive thousand Native men and women by the war s t nd However important dimensions of the old stereotypes still prevailed with the negative image ofthe blood thirsty savage becoming positive now that these Americans were em ployed in defense ofthe United States In 1944 Secretary ofthe Interior I larold L lckes wrote an article for CollCris in which he reported that the Indian has endurance rhythm a feeling for timing cooordination sense perception an un canny ability to get over any sort of terrain at nig ht and better than all else an enthusiasm for fightingquot27 A Reader s Digest article from the previous year described the American Indian soldier in similar terms The red soldier is tough Usually he has lived outdoors all his life and lived by his senses he is a natural Ranger He takes to Commando fighting with gusto At ambushing scouting signaling sniping Indians are peerless Some can smell a snake yards away and hear the faintest movement all endure thirst and lack offood better than the av erage white man 3quot These descriptions might have been humorous to Native Ameri cans especially those from Chicago or Los Angeles unless of course they found themselves in combat under the command ofan of cer who believed they had inherited the ability to smell snakes or see in the dark The Cowboy Tillen39s 5 Playing Indian The homogenized packaged Indian stereotypes in the films ofthe for ties and fties though bearing little relation to reality were rather in teresting in their own right Because the Plains Indians were well known as warriors much ofthe Hollywood Indian s out t was 1 cos tume designer39s interpretation of what a Plains warrior would have worn The typical Hollywood Indian man of the forties and fties wore a long owing feathered headdress a breech cloth with swimming trunks underneath ofcourse and moccasins and he wielded a fierce looking tomahawk His Sister the Indian Princess wore a long headed and fringed buckskin dress and a beaded headband with one feather sticking straight up in the back They lived in a tipi and he hunted buf falo or settlers and carved totem poles while she picked berries sIaVed away at the buffalo hides or fashioned pottery A man described as Sioux might have been found wearing a Navajo blanket over his chest plate carrying weapons from a northeastern tribe wearing an Apache bandanna and standing in front ofa northwestern tribe s totem pole 39I 39hese individual details ofthe celluloid Indian were obviously not all figments ofa Hollywood imagination Most of them could be found somewhere in the five hundred separate cultures but Hollywood was the only place where the whole simulacrum came together Native American actors have always had difficulty with these odd syncretic depictions offered by Hollywood and they have made their uneasiness known in different ways Today s actors are often very vocal about what they will and will not do in terms ofauthenticity but even in the early days the actors at times let their feelings be known Some times it was with humor the sort that is packed with subtext For in stance john del Valle wrote in the New York Herald Tribune on 17 No vember 1940 Since De Mille set the pace with his first filming in 1912713 of The Squaw Maii llz as Hollywood s first feature picture the red man has had more than his share ofwork This offers an anthropological aspect which might not have been anticipated Hollywood has ac quired a permanent colony ofrepresentatives ofalmost all tribes still extant With the cinema as their melting pot these expatriates are taking on the semblance ofa tribe all their ownperhaps the largest tribal group not on any reservation ne among thpm a stalwart of 52 The anlmy Talkies Cherokee blood known professionally as Chief Thunder Cloud Victor Daniels who plays a Cree war chief in North West Mounted Police has taken theinitiativc With a nucleus ofeighteen and an eligible list running into the hundreds Thunder Cloud is ap plying to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for recognition of the De Millc Indians as a new tribe composed only ofIndians who work for lms Mr del Valle evidently saw the humor in the proposition but the irony oflegislated legitimacy for a c0nstructed reality seems to have escaped him They Died Wit1 Their Boots On 1941 When Errol Flynn starred as George Armstrong Custer in They Did With 39I39hr39ir Boots On in 1941 the conventions ofinvention for Indians in western lms were already so deeply engrained that they were virtually unquestioned As Crazy Horse rides down upon and kills Custer the audience sees a savage killing machine mowing down a righteous and courageous real American The story was an old one that every child had learned in school the brave General Custer and his gallant men ofthe Seventh Cavalry were i doing their duty making America safe for white farmers and their fam ilies when the dastardly Sioux ambushed them and murdered every 39 man In the film version low angle shots produced an image ofa Cus ter ofmythic stature much like the many paintings ofhis famous last stand According to a written transition in the lm Custer cleared the plains for a ruthlessly spreading civilization that spelled doom for the Red Man The red man in this lm is represented by Anthony Quinn who actually is ofTarahumara ancestry as Crazy Horse the only individualized Indian in the lm which mainly featured hordes rushing over the Little Big Horn or standing as backdrop for the hero39s actions That Crazy Horse was given any humanity or understandable motivation was very likely dont to give the hero Custer an adversary worthy ofhis attention and make his death more tragic and meaningful The point of lms such as They Died With Their Boots On was not to tell a new story it was to reaf rm the righteousness of the nineteenth century American hero and showcase his heroism against an obvious evil That evil was conveniently represented by the American Indian because the question ofwho was right or who would win had been de nitively answered It was history The CHINmy 39lillkh39 53 Robert Stam observed in a discussion omenIm 1987 that the lm is 1 tightest and racist discourse designed to atter and nourish inas culinc fantasies ofomnipotence characteristic ofan empire in crisis The same could be said of They Died With Their Boots On It was made just before the United States entered World War II when masculine fantasies ofomnipotence were selling very well indeed In November 1941 a reviewer for Variety described the lm as a sure re Western an escape from bombers tanks and Gestapo American to the last man America ofthe19405 was deeply immersed in the war and lm makers were producing movies that offered escape from that reality while de ning ever more clearly what it was to be an American hero In much the same way Buffalo Bills The Indian War bolstered the Ameri can con dence in the righteousness and bravery ofthe American male entering World War I They Died With Their Boots On like Northwest Passage portrayed the largerthau life courageous and honorable American male for an America about to charge through another world wart Stagecoach 1939 I The Variety review quoted above said that In westerns major er rors in history and persons i mean little to producers or audiences The test ofthe yarn is not its accuracy but its speed and excitement m For speed excitement and individual fabrication of the American myth no one surpassedjohn Ford I Iis classic western Stagecoach is an encyclopedia ofinnovative lmmaking Many ofhis sequences partic ularly those with fast action have been duplicated so many times by so many generally lesser lmmakers that they have become clich s of American cinema As a stagecoach races across the vast expanse of Monument Valley Ford s all purpose western setting that stands in for the New Mexico high desert the scene is shot from a high angle that makes the little is land oframbling humanity seem extremely vulnerable We know that a band of cutthroat Indians is about to attack the stagecoach and that it belongs to Geronimo because we ve already seen the burnedout ranch and the dead white woman and we ve been told that You re all going t0 be scalped and massacred by that old butcher Geronimo The In dians appear in a low angle shot as the dangerous villains and the ten sion mounts with a closeup of Geronimo Chief White Horse Ford s crosscutting of shots builds the tension in the scene as an arrow out of nowhere hits a passenger in the stage and the chase begins To lm the 54 The Jawbin Ihlkii x scene a camera was mounted on a truck that raced alongside the stage coach at high speed creating breathless excitement for that early audi ence Shots of the speeding stage were crosscut with shots of the pas sengers within as the white men bravely fought off the attack Ford39s artistic use of the exterior camera was inspired the filming of the Apaches in low angle shots showedjust how hard they were hitting the ground It was apparently irrelevant to audiences that the Apaches would have had to travel for miles across open country to reach the stage coach judging by the establishing long shot and would have been i heard long before the arrow appears out of nowhere or that the ar Cher apparently the only one in the picture who doesn t have a rifle would have had to be fairly close to hit the stage Speed and action were important not reality so it was also possible for the hero to knock two Indians offtheir horses at the same time The point was not to show a realistic altercation but to show the stagecoach s microcosm ofcivilized society with its paradoxes and contradictions saved by the classic western hero Ford noted that it would not have done for the Indians to shoot the lead horses instead of ring madly into the air because it would have been the end ofthe picture quot32 and that s a hard argument to refute The film s hero Ringo Oohn Wayne is the ultimate westering hero who carries his own brand ofjustice battles against formidable odds I and gets the girl He has just escaped from prison where he has been unjustly held while his brother39s murderers are living it up in Lords 39 burg While the tension over the impending confrontation with the murderers builds the hero is given the opportunity to prove his worth i He is more than kind to the prostitute Claire Trevor Whom the others shun revealing his innocence and his egalitarian value system During the full scale attack he climbs on top of the stage to kill Indians and then jumps onto the rigging between galloping horses to guide the stage proving his sel ess courage This is all made easier by inept Apaches who seem incapable of hitting anything except by accident while every shot fired by a white man not only kills the Indian but knocks his horse to the ground Once white valor has been veri ed the Indians simply disappear The frontier having been crossed the Indians vanish into the land scape a part of the hostile world only the white hero can tame While this may be an oversimplification of Ford s accomplishment in Stage mac1 it is a fair assessment of the use he made of the Apaches in the 9 Photo Museum of Modern Art Film Stills 3 From john Ford39s Stagecoach 193 Archive courtesy ofUnited Artists film As he stated in a 1928 essay entitled Veteran Producer Muse s the director who strives too hard to represent humanity by rubbing down the rough edges ofracial and personal traits is likely to make his Work drab and Colorlessquot33 National Policy ofthe 19505 For a while during the thirties and early forties at least on the surface it looked as ifNative Americans were beginning to receive some respect from the government if not Hollywood HOWEVCLVIH 139953 House Concurrent Resolution 108 passed ushering in the Termination era The resolution which passed with unanimous votes in both houses Simply terminated all tribes within California Florida Texas an New York as well as the Flatheads of Montana the Klamaths of Ore gon the Menoniinees of Wisconsin the Potowatamieslof Kansas and Nebraska and the Chippewas from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota The idea was that Indians within the territorial limits of the United States should assume their full responsibilities as American citizens freed from Federal supervision and control and from all disabilities and limitations specially applicable to Indiansquot The 56 The Cowboy Talkie resolution also terminated all agencies set up to serve these people Upon the release ofsuch tribes and individual members thereoffrom such disabilities and limitation all of ces of the Bureau ofIndian Af fairs in the States of California Florida New York and Texas and all other of ces of the Bureau of Indian Affairs whose primary purpose was to serve any Indian tribe or individual Indian freed from Federal su pervision should be abolishedquot34 Senator Watkins the resolution s chiefpromoter referred to it as af rmative actionquot He felt that termi nating the tribal unit would free the American Indians and likened the resolution to the Emancipation Proclamation35 The national gov ernment had effectively overturned the Wheeler Howard Act and had reverted to the assimilationist policies ofthe previous century Whereas the good Indianquot ofthe twenties was one in contact with the mystical and the natural in the fties the best Indians were those that had assimi latedr As a Christian Science Monitor article noted The picturesque beaded feathered and quaint American Indian hasjust about vanished from the lands ofhis ancestors In his place stands Mr Indian modern American citizen Clad in a business suit his keen black eyes view the passing scene with growing understanding and appreciationquot35 Termination meant the loss oftrust status for the land that went on tax rolls and American Indian complaints that the land was theirs by right of treaty and therefore not taxable went unheeded Therefore much Native land eventually reverted to the Ur 5 government due to unpaid taxes The resolution also meant the end of tribal government for the 109 tribes and bands with whom Congress terminated its rela tionship Many ofthese tribes had high degrees ofstability tribal con stitutions and a strong desire for selfsuf ciency The aim ofthe termi nation program assimilation into mainstream America was antipodal to the aim of these tribes to remain cohesive cultural arid legislative bodies with power to govern themselves Matters were made worse by another 1953 law Public Law 280 that had a tremendous impact on Native selfdetermination This law extended statejurisdiction over of fenses committed by or against Native Americans in Indian country effectively dissolving self rule by tribes and hands37 The fties also saw the policy of relocationquot put into effect Seven teen to twenty thousand Native Americans from reservations were moved to urban areas in twenty different states with Los Angeles and Chicago receiving most of the relocatees The government paid their transportation and assisted them until they got settled News reports of Thy Canmy Talkies 57 the day ran from an optimistic Saturday Eveniiigf ost article Indian Reservations May Some Day Run Out oflndians to the oppOSite in which American Indians were portrayed as victims ofa government plot to steal their lands The end result encouraged the general per ception that for better or worse Native peoples were indeed vanishing into the melting pot One way or the other the effect relocation had on Native cultures and individual Native American families is dif cult to 0VEVIeistiilfllietitermination ofwhole tribes and the assumed assimilation of the Native American peoples it is somewhat understandable that many in the American viewing public might think ofthe American than as a relic from centuries past The laws above probably seemed Ii e mere Congressional housekeeping chores and the American Indians In volved probably seemed like far distant relatives to the authentic sav ages ofprior centuries The Malleable Metaphor In post World War II America life was39good once more American were spending their 140 billion of war time savings on new cars at1 television sets twenty thousand per day by the midfifties and t e new suburbs were giving individual Americans a piece ofground they could call their very own Science and technology offered solutionstlo old problems like polio and poverty Religion wasva big seller wit 1 Norman Vincent Peale s The Power afPasitiie Thinking riding the crest ofthe best seller list and the Reverend Billy Graham a freguent E15611 hower White House guest Congress attached the phrase under God to the Pledge ofAllegiance and Hollywood star39jayne Rus s Ell said that once you got to know God you nd He39s alnvm Doll However by the early fties concern about the possrbilityof tlie nonChristian Communists provoking a nuclear war was sending children scouting under desks in bomb drills and the Cold War was on One result of the fear of Communism in America was McCarthy ism a political phenomenon that included but grew larger than the man for whom it was named SenatorJoe McCarthy CongresSional Committees were set up to investigate anti American actiVities and blacklists were developed Among the blacklisted were artists such as Lillian Hellman Victor Navasky Charlie Chaplin Zero Mostel Abraham Polonsky and Dalton Trumboi One result ofthe blacklists in Hollywood was the shock of suddenly nding oneselfamong the op 58 The mirlmy 39Ililkii39i pressed Films ofthe fties therefore ran the gamut from racist politi cal propaganda to a type ofenlightenment not seen in I Iollywood since i the days ofthe early silent lms As Ralph and Natasha Friar noted about Native Americans in lm The worst ally and the best enemy the Indians could have is a sympa thetic friendquot Beginning in the fties that was also true of those in Hollywood who were suddenly the American Indians friends As Native Americans became the all purpose metaphor for any and all op pressed people Native American identities and histories were buried ever more deeply When Hollywood found itselfunder attack the lm industry reac ted by producing films with a startling degree oftolerance In order to make a point about other types ofhumanity and their equality to those in power the filmmakers turned once more to American Indians It was a logical choice since lmmakers knew their audiences expected Hol lywood Indians to be bloodthirsty savages Presenting an Indian who was also a respectable human was a good way for lmmakers to shake up preconceptions without getting blacklisted themselves A signi cant depiction ofthis sort is Delmer Daves39s Broken Arrow Broken Arrow 1950 Consistently cited as an example of burgeoning cultural awareness in Hollywood Broken Arrow was prompted in part by resistance to McCarthyism Stereotypes were reinvestigated and cultural norms such as the righteousness of manifest destiny were questioned The lm even made an attempt to create multidimensional human beings who were Apaches an unusual idea in Hollywood but ve decades of onevdimensional stereotypes still cast their shadows over Broken Arrow jeff Chandlbr s Cochise is a kind humane leader with intelligence and military talentia startling change from the typical portrayal ofan Indian chief He speaks standard English without ughs and without the characteristically rigid body language or erce scowl However Tom jeffords Games Stewart states in a voice over at the beginning that the story will be told in English for the bene t ofthe audience Since the conversations between jeffords and Cochise are understood to be in Apache it is no surprise that Cochise would be articulate What is surprising is that the whitejeffords picks up uent Apache so easily This is skirting dangerously close to what Bakhtin calls pseudo poly I39In39 Ioii lioy llillcim 59 phonic discourse interpreted by Robert Stam as one which marginal izes and disempowers Certain voices and then pretends to undertake a dialogue with a puppetlike entity that has already been forced to make crucial compromises l2 Cochise s voice is not heard in its full force and resonanCe and the interaction in Broken Arrow does not consist ofa true polyphony one that strives to eliminate the inequities and show cul tural difference in a positive light It does however at least allow an American Indian man to speak articulately with humor and with some force Ifnothing else Chandler s Cochise is undeniably human The villains in Broken Arrow are not the Indians even though Geron imo Gay Silvcrheels does not want peace as do Cochise and jeffords The greedy violent white men are the bad guys in this lm and by the end ofthe picture it is logical even for a Euro American audience to think that maybe Geronimo was right after all The suggested change in attitude is made very clear in the lm Jeffords states at the begin ning I learned something that day Apache women cried over their sons and Apache men had a sense offair play Daves also presents Cochise s military skill for the audience to ad mire He outfoxes the cavalry of cers who have cleverly hidden sol diers in a wagon and the company is virtually wiped out except for General Howard who becomes a great fan ofCochise This is very un like the depictions oflndians as inept ghters in previous lms lms in which they could be defeated by a pack ofBoy Scouts Scouts to the Res au 1931 or even held off by a woman wielding a peashooter Bad Baxmmli 1946 The Indians in Broken Arrow are a force to be reckoned with but they can also be reasoned with I The Apaches are seen as human and noble but the idea ofiniscege nation gets the same old treatment Tom jeffords falls immediately in love with Sonseeahray played by a darkened and contact lensed Debra Paget They are married in a ritual that includes the slicingofwrists and mixing of blood an occurrence more likely found in children s pacts than Indian cultures and they are deliriously happy However they are ambushed by villainous whites and Sonseeahray is killed jeffords rides offinto the sunset alone once more It was a touching love story but it could not continue The same will hold true in lms made through the 1980s and even the 1990s The Searrhcrx 1956 The Ford lm that many critics hold up as his most in uential is The Searchers made in the mid fties with john Wayne as the hero once 4 lirom lelmer Dave39s Broken Arrow logo l hoto Museum ofModern Art l ilni Stills Archive courtesy ofTwentieth Century Fox again More than any other lmmaker Ford was responsible for the ideas Americans had about Ni ive Americans and some critics see this lm as Ford39s rst attempt to straighten out the distorted portrayal he had helped create While it is possible to see the lm that way since it has a happy ending more orless it still perpetuated attitudes about Na tive Americans that were far from positive The llu presents the Indians as murderers who kidnap two young white girls not an unusual story for a western movie The searchers are Ethan Edwards Uohn Wayne the uncle of the kidnapped girls and their mixed blood adopted brother Martin Pawley Jeffrey I lunter What makes this lm particularly disturbing is the attitude of Wayne39s character He treats the halfbreedquot with disdain for most of the The Cuwlwy llilkiex u movie and his goal throughout the lm is not to bring the girls back but to save them from their dishonor by killing them We re left to wonder whether or not he actually does kill the older girl because only he finds her and he tells the brother not to go look for her He says this while repeatedly thrusting his knife into the sand as though to cleanse it The implications ofthe language and body language are that the ln dians have raped tortured and killed her but given the uncle39s attitude and his actions it is not at all certain he didn t slit her throat himself He is the ultimate Indianhater The younger girl Debbie played by Lana and Natalie Wood has a chance to grow up while the search for her continues for years These are dedicated searchers She becomes the wife of Chief Scar Henry Brandon the leader ofthe band ofComanches and is apparently con tent to be so when her saviors arrive Killing the chiefis a matter of course but the brother and uncle have an altercation when the uncle wants to shoot the girl to save her from the disgrace she now bears Unfortunately Wayne39s character is acting according to the general mores ofthe day Some lm critics think this was Ford s point that the audience is supposed to nd Wayne39s attitude reprehensible and that the lm is actually a revisionist western that shows the negative effects of racism The fact remains however that an audience who had little Cin ematic exposure to favorable depictions of miscegenation would be hard pressed to nd anything amiss in their favorite hero s views As Stedman notes Regrettably because he is John Wayne because he is so untiringly skillful in the pursuit his motivation dominates in build ing audience attitude Against a biggerthan lite screen figure thel fanatical approach of the younger partner cannot offer the balance it does in the novelquot Even the horro an audience feels when watching the uncle try to shoot down the terri ed Natalie Wood character cannot undo the blatantly racist ideas that set up the situation No indepth at tempt to humanize the Comanches is made in the lm so the climax of the lm says only that at the moment of truth john Wayne cannot murder a white girl who is also a close relative Miscegenation and Hollywobd Ford turned a harsh spotlight on miscegenation a subject that from the beginning has haunted lndian and white sexual relationships in film Laws regulating marriage between white men and Indian women were enacted as early as IXXX and the issue though generally not as bla tantly addressed as in The Searchers has received plenty ofattention in 5 From john Ford39s The Searchers 1956 Photo Museum oF Modern Art Film Stills Archive courtesy oFWarner Brothers other Hollywood lms In Fact a Formula oFsorts was developed over the years that is only now beginning to be questioned Miscegenation whether by choice or by Force was a scary proposi tion to audiences in the 9503 Philip French sees lms such as The S l llN S as expressing deep Fears about thevbossible breakdown oF American society in the Face oFan underlying drive toward anarchy and disintegration a Feeling that the inhabitants 0F America have a ten uous grasp upon their continentquot At the end this life twenty years beFore the making oF The Scan10m Standing Bear oFthe Sioux voiced the same idea but From the Indian perspective He said The white man does not understand the Indian For the reason that he does not un derstand America He is too Far removed From its Formative pro cess The man From Europe is still a Foreigner and an alien And he still hates the man who questioned his path across the continent But I39ln39 fowlmy Iiikits 63 in the Indian the spirit oFthe land is still vested it will be until other men are able to divine and meet its rhythm quot Films such as The Satyrwry posed the question onhether or not the prisoners the white women captured by Indians could be rehabilitated and whether or not the seekers themselves would remain the same Would exposure to the land and its inhabitants change them While later Films came up with more palatable choices than The Searchers did most Films From the early fties showed an underlying anxiety about the solidity 0F American national identity and a need to protect that identity The anxiety was caused in part by the McCarthy era s witch hunt atmosphere which made belonging a virtue and diFFerence a dis gr1ce39l39lie result was an interesting shift in the depiction oFthe Film iii tluslry s all purpose ther the American Indian For instance Ford s 39Iilru Rude Vlthl fH I I96 contains a plea For understanding For the poor unfortunates who have lived in captivity with the Indians and have been tainted by Indian liFe The result is as Stedman noted that Two Rotc 39Iirqcllu r really preaches Be kind to poison victims The poison itselFis beyond consideration 7 In Hollywood39s westerns the ultimate solution For a sexual relation ship between an Indian and a white was that the Indian would have to die lFthe relationship whether or not it included love involved an In dian male and a white Female the Indian man must die and the woman was ruined For IiFe to the point that she too was better OFF dead Rather than give in to a sexual relationship the woman was expected to kill herselF otherwise she was either crazy or a whore and de nitely not welcome in the civilized world IFshe produced an oFFspring the halF breedquot was prooFoF her lack oF virtue and was treated as an outcast 39l hat a white woman might nd an Indian than attractive and worthy was beyond thought This pretty well sums up the ideas in The Searchers The women are ruined or dead and their mixed blood one eighth Cherokee Foster brother is denigrated as a breed On the other hand iF the relationship involves a white man and an Indian woman the whole aFFair actually carries a romantic aura about it although that relationship is alsoydoomed and the Indian woman will die either at the hands oFa villain Indian or white or by her own hand to save the man From death or humiliation or sometimes simply inconvenience In Broken Arrow Sonseeahray39s death is tragic but not unexpected This oF course implies a gender as well as racebased Value system 64 The Cowboy Talkies The general assumption of lmmakers for the rst threeaquarters of a century of lmmaking has been that the male has the dominant role in a r 39 39 but it was 39 39 39 that an Indian even though male might have dominance over a white woman An Indian woman usually a princess Could give herselfto a white man but a white woman could never give herselfwillingly to an Indian man On the other hand a white man would be naturally dominant over any In dian or any woman so his seduction and0r love ofan Indian woman is tragically romantic and provocative forbidden perhaps but therefore titillating


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