Reel Injun (2009)
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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.
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!
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.
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 film can currently be seen on CBC's website for "The Passionate Eye", in the section for viewing online. I'm not sure how long it will be there, but it's been there at least for a week or two. There are some annoying and painfully loud commercials inserted in it (if Dove thinks this will make me their customer, they should be aware it's having the opposite effect on me, and I'm switching to store brands) but if you can ignore those, it's a good way to see it. (EDIT: Actually, this is NOT a good way to see it, if you have any other choice. They seem to have cut about 10-15 minutes from the film, as they appear to have done for most or all films they currently have online. There's no excuse for chopping up someone's work and representing it as the real thing. Shame on them.)
I agree with both of the previous IMDb reviews. I was very surprised to learn about the varied history of native American "Injuns" on screen. But at the same time I felt that the narrator posed questions he didn't answer, and the travelling metaphor simply didn't work. Still, I give it an 8/10 for being crammed with information. I think with some additional work, it could be re-edited and expanded into a new film that could be 9 or 10.
I've seen almost no films prior to late 1960's, having native American characters. But I have seen some of the more recent films they mentioned. I did like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dances With Wolves, Smoke Signals, and Black Robe, but did not think much of Little Big Man, and I was bored almost to death by Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). That one is probably loved for historical purposes, and a lack of competition, but it's bad cinema.
Probably the best film I've seen where the main characters are native American would be Ce qu'il faut pour vivre (The Necessities of Life). But maybe it was too recent to be included in Reel Injun.
*Special Stars- Adam Beach, Russell Means, John Trudell, Sacheen Little Feather(aka Maria Cruz).
*Theme- Minorities that criticize how others see them should get involved in the process and make change happen.
*Trivia/location/goofs- color, documentary. Filmed in the western US at historic places for native peoples.
*Emotion- I watched this film with an open mind. Especially since my grandfather was an actor in the early film industry and in many Westerns. But I was disappointed in the same boring Progressive radical re-writing of history agenda that permeated this film's message. The film's evidence has two standards on both sides. In one part, they were complimentary to the film industry at first and then in the next part, they blamed the industry for all their problems in a false public perceptions of native Americans. Films are not history and shouldn't be held up as such. It's fiction and is the re-writing of history. Films need to be seen in context of the historic times they came out in. One silly example of a positive Indian portrayal told in this documentary film was the film 'Billy Jack'(an anti-war film of it's time) and also the film, 'Little Big Man'(an anti-war film of it's time). Both films were of a non-Indian lead characters illustrating ridiculous Indian and Caucasian history in totally differing & opposite thematic views. Don't expect to get basic ideas supported by fact in this propaganda film, do your own research.
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.