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Native American Film


Mack Simone
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I would like to see Native Americans in Films and Native American Film curated by TCM. A discussion on the role of Native Americans in film which created the myth of the Native American, the myth of America and perhaps Hollywood itself as the trope became a reliable money maker for the studios for decades.

Groundbreaking performances by Chief Dan George in Little Big Man and Outlaw Josey Wales.

Native American Films such as Smoke Signals, PowWow Highway and Barking Water.

 

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3 hours ago, Mack Simone said:

I would like to see Native Americans in Films and Native American Film curated by TCM. A discussion on the role of Native Americans in film which created the myth of the Native American, the myth of America and perhaps Hollywood itself as the trope became a reliable money maker for the studios for decades.

Groundbreaking performances by Chief Dan George in Little Big Man and Outlaw Josey Wales.

Native American Films such as Smoke Signals, PowWow Highway and Barking Water.

Excellent suggestion. Surprised TCM hasn't covered this theme yet.

Something I watched not long ago, which I felt had the right combination of Hollywood storytelling and Native American insights was the 1976 Universal feature called MUSTANG COUNTRY. It was Joel McCrea's last film, and a young Native American non-actor has a good role in it.

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I'm not so sure but that it would put the host, producers, and writers of any 'programme' like this in an awkward position. TCM is in the business of airing old movies. As soon as you begin to dissect the blandly uniform stereotypes that comprise most studio westerns, well ...where is there to go with the inevitable conclusions once they're drawn? It paints one into a corner, unless TCM would afterwards leap up to agree that they will cease forever showing any studio western other than 'Cheyenne Autumn'.

To play devil's advocate for a moment: anyone interested in the forlorn history of the disenfranchisement of Native Americans has a wealth of books, media, or even college courses available to them. One can visit a library, a cultural center, take a vacation out west, get in touch with First Nations leadership, support Native American political causes, or attend current-day tribal events. The "marginalization of the American Indian" is no secret; nor is it any secret that Hollywood movies were made in a less socially-sensitive era than our own. Everyone knows classic films inculcate many grave flaws. On the other hand, classic movies don't need reforming, re-interpreting, re-imagining, re-editing, re-appraisal, censorship, or restriction. Left exactly as they are, they remain exactly as they were intended. Entertainment. Light entertainment. No one is forced to watch them.

Speaking for myself only (because admittedly, I'm merely an intermittent television viewer who really has no standing at all) I would enjoy --and have enjoyed in the past --random 1-hour documentaries on this topic, the topic of Hollywood stereotypes. Fine. Super.  It's always great, once-in-a-while. But imagine a month-long interregnum where every western I might tune in to, is presented in this cringing, self-recriminating, self-torturing, apologetic manner? No way. 

All I would ever want TCM [or any cable station] to do for me, is to play movies. I don't need cultural re-programming, sensitivity-training, or consciousness-raising from a fancy, expensive, Sony/Samsung, flat-screen, 52" Smart-TV television set.

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27 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

I'm not so sure but that it would put the host, producers, and writers of any 'programme' like this in an awkward position. TCM is in the business of airing old movies. As soon as you begin to dissect the blandly uniform stereotypes that comprise most studio westerns, well ...where is there to go with the inevitable conclusions once they're drawn? It paints one into a corner, unless TCM would afterwards leap up to agree that they will cease forever showing any studio western other than 'Cheyenne Autumn'.

TCM has had film-series that explored the black 'experience' in American films (and one on Asians???).    I believe doing one on Native Americans would be good,   but as you hint it should mostly focus on 'old movies'  and thus the vast majority of those films wouldn't represent Native Americans in a good light.    In addition many of the films that portray Native Americans (well at least some of them),  in a positive way as solid human beings,  (e.g. Broken Arrow),  the Native American is played by a white-man (Jeff Chandler in this case).

So yea,  'awkward position' is on-target.   But I still say TCM should go for it!    

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Too true; and a good point I overlooked. Yes indeed--as I said, the *occasional* documentary on these subjects is something I appreciate. And enjoy. But I wouldn't want --every time I view a movie --to be subtly reminded that I'm an 'oppressor'. Go bother the NFL about the 'Washington Redskins' instead.

Another awkward instance I was apprised of in detail recently: the lurid case of 'Iron Eyes Cody' in those Forestry Service / DOI anti-littering PSAs. Although 'Iron Eyes' adopted the Native American lifestyle thanks to his movie career --and although he didn't like to admit it--his family was from Sicily. He was an Italian American.

The smoke-and-mirrors sham world of Hollywood simply doesn't always lend itself so easily to social analysis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Eyes_Cody

cody_iron_eyes.jpg

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2 hours ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

TCM has had film-series that explored the black 'experience' in American films (and one on Asians???).    I believe doing one on Native Americans would be good,   but as you hint it should mostly focus on 'old movies'  and thus the vast majority of those films wouldn't represent Native Americans in a good light.    In addition many of the films that portray Native Americans (well at least some of them),  in a positive way as solid human beings,  (e.g. Broken Arrow),  the Native American is played by a white-man (Jeff Chandler in this case).

So yea,  'awkward position' is on-target.   But I still say TCM should go for it!    

I see this as a good challenge-- coming up with suitable films for a theme along these lines. Even films where Natives are presented negatively can be paired with films where the Natives are presented more positively, to advocate balanced representations and function as a form of counter-programming.

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The larger question behind all such topics (as this one) is maybe this: is there anything about the entire Golden Age of Hollywood which is politically-correct by today's standards? Isn't the whole thing 'wrong'?

Anecdote: I once suggested to a friend that she watch more classic movies, to get more hip to where I'm always coming from and she retorted with venom.

"Why would I want to go back and watch films from that era at all? A period in history where women and minorities were second-rate citizens? No way! What could it possibly have to teach me?"

So I worry that someday the entire era of classic movies may simply be ruled off-limits. Nothing about it was ever correct, and that's just not acceptable to people these days. I've seen this same sentiment in book discussions as well.

It crosses my mind whenever I enter my workplace. If I had my druthers, I would hang classic movie posters all over my area of the center I work in. I'd find it very soothing and homey and cozy. But I can't think of a single classic movie --the mere poster of which, on display-- would not cause ruffled feathers. Can you?

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4 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

The larger question behind all such topics (as this one) is maybe this: is there anything about the entire Golden Age of Hollywood which is politically-correct by today's standards? Isn't the whole thing 'wrong'?

Yeah, some of these films haven't exactly "aged well." :blink: :lol: I still enjoy them though!

 

 

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6 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Another awkward instance I was apprised of in detail recently: the lurid case of 'Iron Eyes Cody' in those Forestry Service / DOI anti-littering PSAs. Although 'Iron Eyes' adopted the Native American lifestyle thanks to his movie career --and although he didn't like to admit it--his family was from Sicily. He was an Italian American.

The smoke-and-mirrors sham world of Hollywood simply doesn't always lend itself so easily to social analysis.

Yeah, back then most of the native roles were played by Italians or East Euros. It's always funny going through the cast list and finding decisively non-native surnames attached to the role. :lol: How much things have changed.

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Yep (addressing your previous reply). If anyone wants to indict old Hollywood its easy to do. With the rampant 'presentism' that blankets this land these days, one day it might wind up totally discredited. It might easily fall into the gap between people who value history and people who prefer 'nice, clean, tidy' totalitarianism to 'messy' democracy. They'll avow otherwise of course. But you can say anything you want and do anything you want if you're the one with the bucket of whitewash in hand.

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TCM has done an exploration of Native American images on film, back in 2010 (incidentally, it proved no more problematic than their series on African-Americans, women, gays, Asians, and Latinos).  Here is a link to the article on it:

http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/296716|0/Race-Hollywood-Native-American-Images-On-Film.html

As for TCM being an old movie channel, this tired old misrepresentation of TCM's mission has been repeatedly pushed and pushed down over the years.  Evidently, Robert Osborne himself has been powerless to prevent it:

 

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I was watching Tale of the Navajo and I wonder how much accuracy is in film on a cultural perspective, does it have value to the Nation as a historical document in any way, the same for the film Eskimo and others. 

Regarding the performances by Chief Dan George in the films noted and other performances for stage and television he tore apart the stoic Indian stereotype. He had that classic look but his characters in both those films are complex and share a variety of emotions as well as spirituality, humour and sexuality. 

 

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 4/3/2019 at 11:34 AM, Sgt_Markoff said:

The larger question behind all such topics (as this one) is maybe this: is there anything about the entire Golden Age of Hollywood which is politically-correct by today's standards? Isn't the whole thing 'wrong'?

 

Of course not. Times have changed. But, that's the point.

My late father was always in favor of showing those images of the past. 1) To show younger people how things were and 2) To show how far we have come (or not come in some instances).

We really can't hide from the past nor should we want to. The films "were" PC in their day. Just like we don't show blackface or women being slapped around much anymore, they would complain about the blood and gore we show in movies today. They might say our films would ruin the moral fiber of the country.

And who knows. 20 years from now, the whole PC thing might just blow over and Song of the South might be back on prime time.

May as well discuss it. Get it out in the open. That's what I think.

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On 4/4/2019 at 12:44 AM, slaytonf said:

TCM has done an exploration of Native American images on film, back in 2010

It was excellent - recalling the first few weeks of non-Indians in Indian roles and Indians as enemies was painful, I could barely get through it. But the last two weeks of Native American racism & Native American actors and filmmakers were an absolute joy. Loved SMOKE SIGNALS.

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