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Reel Injun is a compelling and insightful film about the history of Hollywood's stereotyping of Native Americans. While it may be trying to cover too much in presenting the entire history of Native Americans in film from the silent era to the present (and thus skips over much in its broad sweep), it is nevertheless highly informative and provocative. I suspect that even the most of the film junkies here at SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX learned quite a bit about a topic that has rarely been treated systematically. The use of small stories about the characters and humorous antidotes is excellent. In exploring the film portrayals of Native Americans Reel Injun also reflects on how the broader culture and the Native peoples have come to view themselves. Even our portrayal of all the specific tribes as the stereotypical feather-laden plains "Injun" was a form of cultural warfare. The evolution of their image in more recent films reflects the gradual changes that have occurred in our culture as it has become increasingly multicultural and open-minded. This film could certainly be used as a powerful educational tool to educate students about how we have historically not only committed genocide against Native Peoples, but used film to portray the victims of American colonial expansion as the violent aggressors.
It's important that you understand that this film IS directed by Neil
Diamond. However, it is NOT the Neil Diamond that middle-aged ladies
love to listen to but just someone with the same name. Do NOT approach
the singer and congratulate him on this movie--he'll probably think you
are a nut! This film is about the depictions of Native Americans in
film and the stereotypes that you'll see in them. The film has some
wonderful facts that really are interesting. It also has a really,
really good point to make--that too often, they are treated as a
monolithic group and not as people. Both the ridiculously noble as well
as the crazed, blood-thirsty killer image are one-dimensional and
really miss the mark. The film does a GREAT job in pointing this out
and featured tones of wonderful interviews and clips of films with
While I heartily recommend the film, I do have one big gripe with it. While it does not destroy the overall message at all, I really disliked how the film unfairly maligned John Ford and John Wayne by making a very broad over-generalization. While there was SOME truth that Wayne popularized killing 'Indians' in film, he and Ford did NOT create this myth of the evil native. In fact, several times Ford and Wayne made films that said the exact opposite. Yet, oddly, the film used one of these wonderfully sympathetic films to try to prove its case--a situation where the film makers either really did NOT see the film or they deliberately misrepresented it. They showed many clips from "The Searchers" and pointed out that Wayne was popularizing the evil Indian myth. This is the exact opposite of the meaning of this film. Wayne plays a man who is crazed--who is obsessed with killing these people. And, he is clearly BAD and the film condemns him for this!!! Also, other examples where Wayne and Ford made the natives real sympathetic people are also ignored in the film--a great example being "Fort Apache"--where Wayne argues with his commanding officer--insisting that the natives be treated with respect and honesty. To me, their anti-Ford/anti-Wayne argument is SOMETIME correct (such as in "Stagecoach") and sometimes not---and is, oddly, a case of stereotyping. Next time, think through your film analysis better--it would have made this a perfect or near-perfect documentary. Instead, it can detract from the film when the viewer is savvy concerning these films.
I learned a TON from this film. I started watching it thinking I had a
good handle on just how terrible Hollywood has been to the cause of
First Nations education, but I was wrong. From the revelation of a
SURPRISING number of Hollywood actors who are still alive and have
played First Nations peoples in their careers to the surprisingly
obvious (how did I not realize this?!) fact that nearly all portrayals
of First Nations Peoples on film are of the Plains People - feathered
war bonnets and all!
There is truly so much that is positive that I could say about this film, but the most important of which is the fact that it has been funded, produced and released to the wider public at TIFF and various other means (I myself watched it on television, yaay!) and it is largely the work of First Nations artists and community. I hope that funding continues so that further quality works like this can be released!
Truly a revelation!
I was really looking forward to seeing this documentary. In fairness, it does live up to its promise to expose the "Hollywood Indian" as a fabrication. But seriously, who didn't already know that - at least to some degree? What Reel Injun fails to do is offer any substantial new insight into the reality of Aboriginal cultures. There's so much rich diversity, and yet we learn next to nothing about any particular group. There's a place in the documentary where the point is made that relatively few Americans actually know an Aboriginal person. It's unfortunate that Reel Injun doesn't do much to help in that regard. Maybe I was expecting too much from an 86 minute doc. Hopefully there will be a follow up to Reel Injun that focuses more on who Aboriginal people are, as opposed to what they are not.
I am an Ojibwe American Indian. In the first place, including Rusell Means in this film proves how absolutely uninformed the film maker really is. Means has been universally discredited as a gangster and killer by the broad American Indian community...there could be no more offensive presence in a film about American Indians. Otherwise the film is a terribly overworked cliché of itself and shows serious problems that are designed to fit the writer's agenda but does not tell an accurate story. There is so little good and correct information available on American Indians that many film-makers, including this one, just make things up. Modern people often feel so guilty and sympathetic, if they feel anything at all, about the American Indian, that a film like this will get good reviews just because it confirms the paranoid tendencies of the new world order. Had the improperly focused writer and film-maker chosen to tell a more positive and honest story, this film could have had some value. As it is, it tells a somewhat true story in such a paranoid and selective way that it, too, has become another part of the problem.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
REEL INJUN does Injustice justice: we see early examples of White Men in Blackface, in Black and White- and then White Men in Redface, in Color(ed?)... I always get a big kick out of seeing actors who clearly AREN'T "American Indians" (which is an oxymoron) pompously spouting ridiculous dialogue. The translations shown in REEL INJUN are hilarious. I never knew that "Iron Eyes" Cody was Sicilian; a bit of a revelation, that. That he took the Part to Heart was touching: you can be who- or what- you WANT to be in this life. The juxtaposition of Reel Injuns with Real World Injuns brought the mixed message(s) home quite clearly (one can't look at the horrific photos of the original Massacre at Wounded Knee and NOT understand the dichotomous yawning chasm between Reality and Reel "reality"). My favorite line in the movie was delivered by the young comic: A group of White Men ride up to an "American Indian" and say, "Where road go?" The "Amerind" replies: "Road STAY. YOU go." I heard somewhere that The Emancipation proclamation, which freed slaves of African descent, didn't apply to Native Americans: it was still legal to own Indian slaves...
The history of the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood films...
What we have is a film that features "white guys" playing Native Americans and the secret identity of Iron Eyes Cody. And for the ladies, we have Native women summed up as Pocahontas. And, of course, all Natives were from the Plains in the movies with feathers and tepees.
What I found disappointing about this film was its lack of references to other films. They did a good job of looking at how Natives really live and there is some humor (the translations) and historical notes of importance (the Marlon Brando incident)... but the clips of films are not a big part of this, and therefore we never fully look at the subject -- Natives in film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The movie was very educational and told the truth about how Native Americans have been represented in film throughout history. It was interesting to see how they have been misrepresented, mistreated, generalized, and taken advantage of in films. People have become ignorant regarding the truth about Native Americans because of the image that Hollywood paints for them. Thankfully things are slowly changing and that the true story of Native Americans is starting to be told in Hollywood. The film did leave me wanting to know more toward the end and I feel like it did not come full circle and complete what it started.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Growing up in Waskaganish, Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond remembers
playing cowboys and Indians, but having to choose a side meant all the
children preferred the role of cowboys. Myths and assumptions
concerning Native Americans have been around for ages; however, the
documentary Reel Injun addresses these falsified beliefs. The film runs
86 minutes long as Neil Diamond visits and interviews Native people and
critics. Traveling in a "rez car," also known as a reservation car, he
brings our attention to the effects of Hollywood film making on a grand
scale. Gullible movie audiences believed in the representations of
Native Americans in numerous films.
Prior to watching Reel Injun I can admit to not knowing much about America's first peoples. During the late 1800s, society was fascinated with Native Americans, making them part of the first themes to be captured on film. As a result, the illusion of Indians began impacting the world. Myths caused native people to be seen as characters instead of being treated as human beings. Not only is this treatment unjust, but it is the catalyst leading people to believe all Native American mimic mythical creatures, because of their assumed bravery and outstanding horsemanship.
The myth associating Indians and horses might have arisen from the Crow people in Montana, who are esteemed riders throughout North America. The relationship between the Crow tribe and their horses is very spiritual. Rod Rondeaux in particular, became a stuntman because he was dissatisfied with seeing white men pretending to be Indians on horses. Rondeaux has starred in the TV film Crazy Horse, Wild, Wild West, and many others. He has become one of Hollywood's highly ranked stuntmen and is representative of Native Americans who have been able to make stereotypes disappear.
The 1930's film The Silent Enemy featured real native actors, allowing Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance to become a preeminent warrior. This period was marked by segregation and Long Lance knew the only way to further his career was by disguising his multiracial background: Indian, African American, and European. Because of his ethnicity, Long Lance developed a new image for himself, one that was solely Indian. When his secret came out, his career was ruined because of his falsified allegation of belonging to a tribe. On March 20, 1932 Long Lance committed suicide after battling alcoholism for years. This is reflective of a time where prejudiced attitudes affected job opportunities. Long Lance was born after the Reconstruction Era had ended and when the lynching epidemic occurred.
Similar to Long Lance and known by his stage name "John Wayne," Marion Mitchell Morrison illustrated the image of the cowboy during his era. Most of Morrison's movie roles were Westerns, making it easy to associate the persona of John Wayne with mistreatment of the Indians. Louise Erdrich's poem "Dear John Wayne" expresses the effects of racial biases that were widely accepted in American society. The lines "How can we help but keep hearing his voice, / the flip side of the sound track, still playing; Come on boys we got them / where we want them, drunk, running" shows how degrading characters like John Wayne were to Native Americans. John Wayne was shown as the fearless cowboy who conquered the natives.
Throughout American history, people have associated headbands and feathers with Native people, when in fact they never wore them. Hollywood began using headbands on actors to ensure wigs would not fall off during stunts. This has become one of the many symbols attached to Native Americans through the influence of Hollywood. With an evolving society, it is difficult to define the ethnic identities of a group. The disadvantage with cinema is that directors can choose how they want to represent individuals or groups of people. These messages can translate incorrectly, allowing for the continuation of prejudices.
Despite being presented as savages and mistaken for hippies, Native Americans have come a long way in Hollywood. The movement that began in November 1969, when indigenous protesters from San Francisco occupied Alcatraz Island, revitalized the spirit of Natives, and filmmakers finally owned up to their mistakes. The 90's can be considered the rebirth of Natives in cinema because their voice emerged. Movies like Smoke Signals and Igloolik accurately tell Native American stories.
Reel Injun provides viewers with a truthful portrayal of the many years of damage caused by film making and will make you question Western favorites held so close to heart. Interviews with natives and a look into various movies throughout history will make you thankful a documentary like this exists. Aiming to rid society of wrongheaded myths, director Neil Diamond thoughtfully delivers just the right amount of critique, leaving audiences with awareness of Native American life.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The title "Reel Injun" is a play on the words 'real Indian' and is very
appropriate because it focuses on the roles of American Indians in
cinema ('reels') over the years. It covers the whole scenery, from
Indians being featured in the very first "motion pictures", a series of
photos on a wheel that would appear in motion when the crank was
turned, all the way to present time when Indians are making their own
movies about their own people, portrayed the way they really are.
The history of the American Indian over the past 500-odd years is a really sad one. There were many tribes, of a mostly peaceful people. But the early settlers from Europe looked at them as savages, and ruthlessly killed or imprisoned them, banishing them from the land that had been their home for centuries. I remember as a kid growing up in the 1950s, learning about American History and seeing western movies, never giving a second thought about it. But now as a somewhat wiser adult I can see what an injustice it all was.
So naturally Indians were portrayed as savages in early western motion pictures, building on that false stereotype. Gradually through the years their portrayal has gotten more and more realistic.
The surviving Indians just want to be considered 'human' because that is what they are. They want the same treatment and opportunities as others in "the land of the free." Good film, it is hard to watch without shedding a tear here and there.
One of the humorous parts, there was a famous actor Iron Eyes Cody, who became sort of an icon of "the real Indian" in movies. It turns out Iron Eyes was of Italian descent, born of immigrants in Gueydan, Louisiana, less than two months before my own father was born in the same general area. Iron Eyes' birth name was Espera Oscar DeCorti but was sympathetic to the Indian culture and lived his whole adult life as an Indian.
Yes, we are all humans, we all come from different tribes, at different times in history.
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