By Colin Capenito, VI Form
Native Americans in the Western Film Genre: An Evolution
Whether it be a science fiction film that brings us on a journey to a distant galaxy or a fantasy movie that introduces us to knights and dragons, films can show locations and characters that do not exist in reality. However, film also has the ability to inform us about our own world. Film can remind us of forgotten history, give us new perspectives on historical events, and familiarize us with cultures different from our own. Because of this, the accuracy of the history and cultures portrayed within movies is crucial; if a film is truthful in its depictions, we are more knowledgeable of, and can make better decisions about, the world.
While not all films in the western genre are based on true historical stories, they feature settings, themes, and groups that did exist in the past. One group often portrayed within the genre is Native Americans. There is a history of stereotyping Native Americans in popular culture. Carlos Cortés lists some of these stereotypes:
…antiwhite antagonists (usually villainous); as sexual threats and conveniences; as noble savages; as victims (often passive) of prejudice and discrimination; and as stalwart (sometimes antiracist) heroes.
In the real world, Americans have mistreated Native Americans throughout history. However, Native American treatment has evolved over time. In the early twentieth century, the government wanted assimilation for Natives, working to mold them into Americans, which entailed Natives being forced to abandon their culture. During the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the government made positive strides in terms of Native American treatment, though termination policies in the 1950s, which included the U.S. government being able to cease protection of Native tribes, undid some of these positive changes. But, groups like the American Indian Movement (AIM) rose in the late 1960s and 70s, helping to bring about policy changes and spark awareness over Native rights.
Colin Capenito is a VI Form day student from Worcester, MA. He loves making films, traveling abroad, and geeking out over Star Wars.