Reel Injun (2009) Poster


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A Provocative History of Hollywood's Portrayal of Native Americans
JustCuriosity18 March 2010
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.
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It has some wonderful points to make but sometimes uses bad film interpretation to make a few of these points.
MartinHafer28 November 2011
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 positive depictions.

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.
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Often hilarious...
poe42610 June 2014
Warning: 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...
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Truly WATCHABLE and educational film.
jltaylor1752 October 2011
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!
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A cliché of a cliché with limited credibility
NanoFrog17 July 2011
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.
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Disappointing though somewhat informative
GeneralYo21 February 2011
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.
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Plenty of Natives, Not Enough Film
gavin694220 November 2013
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.
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this film freak says: needs a bit more work
jonathan-57717 October 2009
This native-directed documentary about Hollywood portrayals of First Nations through the years is appealing, good-humored, and watchable, and will be a valuable educational tool. However, it would have been more valuable (and may be yet; this screening was apparently not the final cut) if its various flaws were addressed. There is a sense throughout of the film biting off more than it can chew. The "journey" framing device - in which Diamond heads out on the road to visit various real-life locations of cinematic lore - works case-by-case, but there's no through line and Diamond isn't on screen enough to establish a presence. While one sees the need to address on screen portrayals' relationship to the realities of early colonialism, 70s AIM activism, macho Indian-themed summer camps etc, these byways reduce the space for the central discussion of the movies themselves. Instead things drift toward pat decade-indexed generalizations, so that in the 70s Billy Jack leads directly to Wounded Knee - quite a stretch! While one can readily understand that native viewers don't much like John Ford westerns, presenting the racist cowboy of The Searchers as a direct expression of the filmmakers' attitudes is asking for trouble. And if you're going to show Little Big Man to an elementary school audience to gauge their reaction, then SHOW US the damn reaction! The best talkers of the film are activist John Trudell and comic Charlie Hill, but as insightful as they are, the native stunt man and costume designer do a better service to the movie's themes. (And please spare me the Robbie Robertson star turn!) And in the end everyone lives happily ever after in rose-colored Celluloid Closet style. All that said, though, the film also reveals the existence of a self-portraying Native cinema in the silent era, translates some hilarious Lakota profanity from a vintage western, and highlights the tragedy of the secretly triracial early movie star Buffalo Child Long Lance, among other revelations. Its moments of insight earn it a more than passing grade in spite of its failings.
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Unveiling the True Injun
divannyperez-9573511 April 2016
Warning: 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.
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masonfisk5 July 2018
Reel Injun is a wonderful primer for all things cinematic of the Native American portrayal in Hollywood. At once eye-opening, depressing but ultimately hopeful for future film generations. Well done.
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A history of Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans
jchereso28 September 2016
Warning: 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.
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A good doc deserving a wider audience
rgcustomer16 May 2010
(I originally intended this to be a discussion post, but I figured it was more of a review, so that's why it's here) I came here hoping to see via the MovieConnections which films were referenced, so I could remember to seek out certain ones that intrigued me, particularly from the silent era. However, this film doesn't seem to get many viewers, and that section remains empty so far.

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.
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was disappointed
oscar-3512 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
*Spoiler/plot- Reel Injun, 2009. A documentary of a young Canadian Cree Indian to explore how native Americans have been publicly portrayed by others through the cinema.

*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.
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Reel Injuns were seldom Real Indians.
TxMike28 May 2012
Warning: 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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Very detailed program about Native stereotypes.
BigLaxFan9428 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I found this one to be very informative about the all the negative stereotypes that Native people all over Turtle Island used to face a lot through images seen about them on TV and the big screen!! Fortunately, it isn't as bad as it used to be in my opinion since Natives are being viewed as a lot more human. However the damage had already been done ever since motion pictures were invented during the turn of the century and many STILL see Native folks as "savages" who are "noble", "stoic", etc. It's pathetic that EVEN TODAY mainstream society still sees them in such a negative manner! I am personally appalled by the old Hollywood views of Native people and I wish they would just vanish into thin air! But.. ANYWAYS... that's my scoop on this program and why I voted 9 out of 10.
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