Dances With Wolves
Dances with Wolves offers a cinematic portrayal of Native Americans that is quite contrary to the stereotypical norm. In this film, John Dunbar, goes out to the west where he meets and becomes friends with the Sioux Indians. He is drawn more and more into their community and eventually chooses to side with the humane Indians over his fellow cruel white Americans. In an attempt to change stereotypical views, director Kevin Costner through Dunbar, presents to the audience a different perspective of Indian removal. The film allows viewers to identify and sympathize with the Indians and thus causes a shift of perception towards the Indian problem. Movie critic Ariztlan, in a review of the film, states that Dances with Wolves "showed the Indians as human beings with a culture and way of life that had the full breadth of human dignity, humor, spirituality and family values (http://www.ariztlan.org/mov/wolves)." The stereotypical view of Indians as savage inhumane beings is strategically dwindled in this movie.
This film was set around the time of the Civil War which took place from 1861-1865. It was during this time that acts of Indian removal were common. The prevalent attitude of Americans at the time was that of expansion into the west. The primitive Indian inhabitants of the western territory proposed a problem for the Americans. To settle into the west, they had to remove the Indians to other places. In a lecture on the place of the west in American history, Dr. April Summitt addressed the historical framework of Indian removal. The first major Indian removal took place in 1830. They were further removed to smaller reservations in the 1870's and 1880's. With this knowledge of the historical setting, we can better analyze the different perspectives of the film. The Indians' fear of removal by the white Americans is understandable. At the same time, we understand the American conquest for western grounds.
Native Americans were traditionally viewed from the white American perspective. They were considered to be uncivilized savage beings who got in the way of their westward expansion. The film begins with this traditional view. Our first introduction of them is that of a skeleton with an arrow. Here, we see them from the American perspective. With brutal scenes of killing and fighting, and fearful flashes of war-painted faces and hollering voices, the Native Americans are portrayed as wild inhumane creatures. The audience is content with this matched stereotype; their attention is grasped.
A careful development of the main character, John Dunbar, is crucial to effectively impact the audience. It is through him that our views will change, so an affinity for his character must be developed. An immediate respect for his character is attained at the opening of the film when he lay on the table under care of the doctors. He is depicted as a strong determined fighter. Building upon this powerful first impression, viewers...