Fighting against the powerful stupidity of racism are these stories and characters that refuse to wallow in a mire of stereotypes by displaying their humanity, be it good or evil. Let the quest for new age crystals or vegan fueled spirituality rest on other shoulders as you dive into these seven Native American movies that will tomahawk into your heart with joy, sorrow and action.
Hopefully a future winner in the “White man saves another differently pigmented person/group/culture” category if it ever gets created, “Pathfinder” has plenty of serious action as Viking warriors square off against Native Americans and their adopted ex-Viking. You don’t get to see many sledding races in action movies but this flick satisfies that urge with some death and mayhem during a snow sledding escape scene.
Horror arrives in dirt-covered glory due to the expanding migration of Americans as they overkill the buffalo population, creating a hole in the food source for the creatures in “The Burrowers”. Prejudices and brutality seem well presented along with Native Americans that are of equal mental and physical aptitude as their paler counterparts. As the group of searchers realize what the Ute tribesmen mean by using “little fish” to hunt the burrowers, the scene spins on its axis from hope to dread brilliantly.
The portrayal of the Native American in Hollywood through the ages gets an in-depth treatment in “Reel Injun”. With blatant and subtle racism running rampant through multiple films as well as the perpetuation of stereotypes, this film won’t tomahawk into your heart but it surely will find its way into your soul. The differing critiques of “Dances with Wolves” should have you switching between laughing and crying at the facts and falsehoods that get revealed by the critics.
Joseph’s beautiful con of a wealthy Russian hunter as well as the fake show he and his people put on will have you chuckling. Portraying a Native American that isn’t simple, stupid or overly connected to nature, Graham Greene makes one hell of a memorable character that will fit nicely into your heart. Watch him and Gibson work over a group of travelers in “Maverick” with one of the best uses of subtitles ever in a scene.
“The Last of the Mohicans”.
Mix a performance by Daniel Day Lewis with a ton of combat and non-cliched Native Americans and you get a solid film. Revenge, love, and political maneuverings fill “The Last of the Mohicans” with unleashed emotional power as motivations behind each character get slowly filled in until they are complete and whole. Uncas’ cliffside rampage against Magua and company is a scene that screams its love of battle while embracing the possibility of death.
“Black Robe” spends the majority of its energy in ensuring the humanity of the story, which rewards the audience and the actors equally. There are no cardboard cutouts to be passed off as nothing more than breathing scenery; rather everyone gives off their own spark of sentience. The children playing keep away as the witch doctor interrogates Father LaForgue is a scene that brings the viewer into the film with skillful performances.
Jaguar Paw’s life seems to be one long dance with death as he gets captured, comes close to being sacrificed, gets made the prey in a cruel game of escape and then gets hunted down until the very last few minutes of “Apocalypto”. So if you’re expecting a boring take on Native American life you should be continually surprised by the tragedy and action as cultures collide. As Jaguar Paw and the remaining hunters spy the ships of the conquistadors you get to participate in that feeling of a newly changed world even though you know how well it turns out for the indigenous people.