Native Americans: Representation in Hollywood Movies

The image history of the Native American in Hollywood vould be profitably studied by examining turning points in the depiction of Indians, from D.W. Griffith’s silent film, America (1924) to Kevin Costner’s Oscar-winning Western, Dances with Wolves (1990).

Placed in their historical and political contexts, the eight films reflect the changes in ideology of mainstream culture toward the Native-Americans, from being portrayed as “savages,” “red skins” and “villains” all the way to being shown as misunderstood victims and noble heroes, whose culture was exterminated by the White civilization. The movies in the series reflect both “Right-Wing” and “Left-Wing” interpretations of the Native-American Culture.

Among the highlights of the series are:

John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), the film that made John Wayne a star and one of the few Westerns to have been nominated for an Oscar Award

Broken Arrow (1950), one of the first Hollywood films to preach for an accord between Native-Americans and White Civilization.

John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), a cinematic masterpiece that nonetheless reflected McCarthyism of the l950s.

Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (1969), starring the young Robert Redford and directed by the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky.

Little Big Man (1970), Arthur Penn’s film, starring Dustin Hoffman, which, grounded in the counter-cultural Vietnam era, was the first film to use the concept of genocide in describing the fate of the Native-American.