Thursday, April 15, 2010

HUM 221: Dances With Wolves and the 'Great American Indian Novel"

To appreciate what Sherman Alexie is doing with "Smoke Signals" and more recent movies, we can get essential background in "Native Americans and Cinema" by Beverly R. Singer on the Film Reference website.

Then we'll watch the trailer for "Dances With Wolves" ...

Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert gave the movie rave reviews:

But movies like "Dances With Wolves" are satirized in Alexie's poem "How to Write the Great American Indian Novel" in Native American Songs and Poems, ed. Brian Swann. (It's also available on line). See also his Los Angeles Times essay "I Hated Tonto (Still Do)" which goes into other movie stereotypes:
I was a little Spokane Indian boy who read every book and saw every movie about Indians, no matter how terrible. I'd read those historical romance novels about the stereotypical Indian warrior ravaging the virginal white schoolteacher.

I can still see the cover art.

The handsome, blue-eyed warrior (the Indians in romance novels are always blue-eyed because half-breeds are somehow sexier than full-blooded Indians) would be nuzzling (the Indians in romance novels are always performing acts that are described in animalistic terms) the impossibly pale neck of a white woman as she reared her head back in primitive ecstasy (the Indians in romance novels always inspire white women to commit acts of primitive ecstasy).

Of course, after reading such novels, I imagined myself to be a blue-eyed warrior nuzzling the necks of various random, primitive and ecstatic white women.

And I just as often imagined myself to be a cinematic Indian, splattered with Day-Glo Hollywood war paint as I rode off into yet another battle against the latest actor to portray Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

But I never, not once, imagined myself to be Tonto.

I hated Tonto then and I hate him now.

However, despite my hatred of Tonto, I loved movies about Indians, loved them beyond all reasoning and saw no fault with any of them.
And so on ...