Thursday, April 4, 2013

How the West Was . . . Won?

Have you seen this film? If not, at least enjoy the epic trailer for it!

The first time I saw this film was in middle school. I remember thinking it was alright, but it was a little too long and there weren't as many battle scenes and stuff as a middle school kid would hope for. Our teacher mentioned that the girls showed too much cleavage sometimes, but that was about the extent of our discussion for the whole film (at least in my memory, which can't always be trusted). 

Couldn't we have discussed so much more? This trailer is dripping with subtleties (some of which aren't so subtle) that need to be called out, subjects that need to be addressed, and lessons that could be taught, all about the massive removal of whole nations of people. But we talked about cleavage.

What about films that are rarely shown in educational settings? Peter Pan was a favorite of mine when I was little, and I really enjoyed the ride at Disney Land. But watching this clip I am shocked with the treatment of Native American's by the filmmakers.


I don't know about you, but watching this makes me feel pretty sick - especially imagining what it might feel like to watch this sitting next to a member of a Native American tribe.

Many kids see films or scenes like this before they have even learned about the slaughtering of native peoples by Europeans and new settlers. Shouldn't we take a little more responsibility by at teaching young people to actively engage with and be critical of the "entertainment" set before them? I wonder if most kids are like I was and figure "Indians are a thing of the past". 


I love this film (Hidalgo, 2004), because it seems to be much more sympathetic to reality when it comes to Native Americans (but maybe not as much with Arabs). Like films such as Dances with wolves it tries to be more accurate, and to me it does so quite convincingly. Other films like Shanghai Noon and Maverick dabble in multiracial conversations that warrant a closer look, especially in their use of humor which is an innovative and interesting way to talk about race and media's portrayal of displaced peoples.

Disney's The Lone Ranger is the next large scaled Hollywood presentation featuring Native Americans. I first heard about it at a lunch in with the Utah Film Commission, and everyone was really stoked because it is being filmed in Utah (at least partially). Some are skeptical about Johnny Depp's role as Tonto and others acknowledge the strange decision to prolong racial profiling from the 30's. Either way, I think it is important to be aware of how Native Americans are portrayed in the media, by Disney or anybody. Does this mean I won't see the film? No, but it does mean I will be critically engaging with it.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I know I am not too happy when my church is inappropriately portrayed in popular culture. I can only imagine what it might be like for a member of a Native American Tribe to watch some of the things Hollywood continues to put out. 

What do you think? Am I being extreme? How has the media influenced your thinking about people or groups different than your own?

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