Reel Injun Movie

A documentary film Reel Injun was first released on 10 September 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film shows the global cinema evolution (from silent films to the present day) through the image of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The basis was formed from numerous films, dozens of interviews with directors, actors, writers, entertainers as well as their real-life stories and destinies. Directors (and writers) Jeremy Hayes and Catherine Bainbridge literally go “on the trail of the Hollywood Indian”. Famous actors Clint Eastwood, Adam Beach, Michael David, Chris Eyre, Charlie Hill, and others tell audience how movie images of the Indians created by Hollywood affected their attitude by negative and distorted images of these people understating their own self-esteem and, conversely, good images that inspired them.

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Hence, this story of the evolution of the image of the First Nations in the movies (from the silent era to the present) provides clippings from hundreds of films, interviews with local directors, actors and writers showing different ways of how the First Nations were affected by the attitude towards them.

The Native Americans, or Indians, without a doubt are the most maligned and persecuted group in the history of the United States and Canada who were the main object of the campaign of genocide carried out in the 18-19th centuries. Today, they account for less than 1% of the U.S. population with one-third of them live below the official poverty line. Throughout American history, the information and entertainment media was dominated by negative stereotypes of the Indians. Perhaps, the most famous image is a bloodthirsty and savage Indian from old movies and the first television shows. In the early 60's, one of the most popular genres in television and movies was western. Indians were usually portrayed as villains, murderers or, at best, unpopular and dummy blunt assistants of the whites (e.g. a lonely cowboy and his Indian friend Tonto).

Although today there are 555 officially recognized Indian tribes, in the media (usually in Westerns), almost always Plains Indians appear, so slavery-like living in a teepee (a portable dwelling) and hunting on buffalo were identified with the way of life of all Native Americans despite the fact that these customs characterize the north-eastern Iroquois or Northwest Tlingit not more than the English or Africans. Increased attention to the Plains Indians is still visible in some of the latter and the rest of the non-traditional films such as “Dances with Wolves” (1990) and “Thunderheart” (1992). Indian women appearances are rare, but when they do happen, these are passive and rather unimpressive secondary characters. Power of women from the matriarchal tribes, such as the Navajo and Mohavki, was generally missed by television.

According to an approach of smashing Stereotypes, a film is the most powerful media in contemporary society which has contributed to the stereotypes of different cultures and ethnic groups. Therefore, Reel Injuns are a shining example of such situation when stereotypes vastly prevail in cinema, meanwhile, being approved and excepted thought any society.

Most of the Indians appear in the media in the historical setting of westerns. Only few modern characters usually appear in the form of militant fighters for justice or alcoholics. In those rare cases when the Native Americans are recalled in the news, people usually talk about land claims or Indian casinos. In view of the small representation of Indians in American society, a source of significant changes can only be own film and television production of the Native Americans.

Under these circumstances, the process of socialization of children of Native Americans is under greater confusion. There is almost a total lack of role models, non-Indian plains. When children of Native Americans play cowboys and Indians, they  want to be cowboys (i.e., “good guys”) like the whites. Even greater confusion is made by the fact that no one strives for any changes. People are guided by stereotypes, and they feel nothing wrong about it. Thus, this film shows how Indians are mistreated only due to wrong beliefs.

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