About the Film
Reel Injun takes viewers through a chronological treatment of First Nations peoples in film and television. This feature length documentary references several well known films and features interviews with Native filmmakers, critics, and community leaders including Chris Eyre, a prolific director and John Trudell, a leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM). Through encounters with community leaders and critics, the film takes viewers on an imaginative journey through the shifting stereotypes of Native Americans in Hollywood.
Please also see Neil Discovers the Moon
Film In Context
Native Americans in Hollywood Film
Since the era of silent filmmaking in the early 1900s, First Nations peoples have been used largely as props, the enemy, and comic relief in Hollywood films. The primary idea was that Indians were in the way of “progress” and “civilization” being achieved by colonial populations who sought to own and control all land inside the borders of what we now refer to as the United States. This hostility toward the first people to occupy these lands can be clearly seen through the stereotypes produced by Hollywood which in turn produce an almost singular idea of who or what Native Americans are. These representations shift over time, shaping audience’s perceptions of the many Native histories and communities that shape the country called America.
- Early 1900s: The advent of Westerns as a genre on the radio and in silent films, producing and reinforcing stereotypes of American Indians as different, undesirable, and threatening to white colonial settlers.
- 1933: The Lone Ranger radio program premieres on WXYZ, and would run 2,956 episodes, featuring a masked cowboy hero and his trusty sidekick, Tonto.
- 1950s: Moving picture images solidify ideas and fears of Native Americans as evil that must bestamped out of America.
Stereotypes and vocabulary often associated with Native Americans:
- Savage: Native people were described as villains out to scalp, kill and rape white settlers. Some were even thought to be cannibals.
- Noble Warrior: Stereotypical Native men were vicious and effective military leaders and hunters who fought to protect their people.
- Indian Chief: The European idea that Native tribes had a single chief who acted like a President, Prime Minister, or King at the top of a hierarchy and made all decisions on behalf of the group.
- Indian “Princess”: This term elevated the social status of Native women, and was used to rationalize the desire of white men for Native women.
- Squaw: Stereotypical Native women were characterized as simple servants who cooked, cleaned, and birthed children for the men.
- Medicine Man: A romantic representation of the non-violent, land-based, “old ways” style spirituality that Native people practiced, which civilization seeks to destroy.
- Extinct: Belief that Natives, like dinosaurs, eventually died off due to disease, famine, genocide, and the inability to survive evolutionary changes.