Essay 2: Indigenous Issues
November 12th, 2013
Stereotypes of Native Americans in Films
Native Americans in films during the 1930’s, 1940’s, and the 1950’s were usually portrayed as irrational people that were determined on attacking and pillaging the peaceful settlers of the American west. The understanding of Native Americans in films was mostly limited to a single genre, the Western. The generalization of Native Americans can be classified under a few key themes. The history of the Native Americans have been condensed and represented under a single period of time. They have a rich history and it has been categorized under the period of the Western. Over time, much of the Native cultures have been interpreted through white values. In the past, white people had a different way of doing things but it doesn’t make the Natives lifestyle wrong or primitive. Furthermore, a reoccurring theme is the grouping of the six hundred distinct Native American cultures under one general classification. Films and movies have always been influential in American life and almost every type of movie has been created. It has covered many different and popular genres and one of the most enduring genres of the film world is the Wild Wild West. Ever since the birth of the film industry, there have been approximately 2,000 dramatic films produced with "Indian themes." About another 2,500 Indian television programs were made between 1950 and 1970. Film played an important role in spreading the stereotypes of the Native Americans as riding horses, screaming war chants, and scalping people. Film reveals the culture of the people and represents the values, beliefs, and social structure by spreading their interpretation of culture to large audiences. It is evident in movies because when an Indian comes into the picture, the mood of the actors change. They start to act startled, the background music changes, and the pigeonholed “big-bad” Native Americans emerge. These stories and generalizations about Native Americans are very much alive today because media has been able to bring the misconceptions to life. More times than not, the “good” Indians portrayed in the western era was one that either assisted the white settlers or tried to adjust to the white culture. This portrayal made Indian violence a key art in western films and a focal point for the suspense and excitement necessary to selling them. Categorizing Native Americans in limited, stereotyped roles were so established and unchallenged that they turned out to be society’s only impression of Native culture. This sparked the creation of the popular misunderstandings and racial slander today. The development of natives in film has mainly been from the influences of white directors and them being oblivious to the realistic view of Native culture. In result, the progress of natives in films has been determined by the changing social views of the white Americans. A Native American author, Michael Hilger, supported this statement saying that “tracing images of the Savage and Noble Red Man through historical periods of the cinema, it will reveal little about Native American people of the past or present but a lot about the evolution of white American attitudes and values.” In western films, they were always shown with scowls and wearing war paint, making them look willing to kill at any time. They appeared inferior to the whites and that the Indians needed to be taught everything having to do with the white way of life. Quoting a scene from “The Great Sioux Massacre, ”a man said, “Cheyenne, Apache, Blackfoot, Sioux – they’re vicious killers all of them; they ain’t even human.” The film justified the slayings committed at the Sand Creek Massacre by classifying the Indians and stating that they are all ruthless and blood-thirsty. Throughout films there has been many stereotypes, one of them being the Indian woman being restrained to only two types, a princess or a squaw. The...
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