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Portrayal Of Native Americans In Film

4566 words - 18 pages

When Columbus first set foot in the New World, he believed that he had arrived in the islands just off the coast of Cipango, known today as China. Thinking this, he called the people that he met Indians, as they lived on the islands that he falsely believed were the Indies. The term Indian spread back to Europe, as did the term Indies, and to this day, Native Americans are known as Indians, and the Caribbean islands are referred to as the West Indies. The Indians populated a much greater area than Columbus could have imagined, covering the land of two Continents. The Native people of these lands, known already by a term in their languages that roughly meant "the people", were now thrown into one large group called Indians, which stretched nearly pole to pole.

The Indians were an invented people. The place they inhabited was not the Indies, and their culture varied from tribe to tribe. The Indian in film is also an invented population of people. No distinction between reality and the imagination are made in these movies. The portrayal of the Native American, and the Native American ways of life were displayed incorrectly in film, and warped the image of the Native American in the eyes of all Americans, especially their descendants.

The movies studied vary, from those dealing with Columbus' first encounter with these fascinating people, up through to the end of the 19th century. The films viewed include: 1492 (1992), Christopher Columbus (1985), Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992), The Last of The Mohicans (1992), Apache (1954), Dances With Wolves (1990), Crazy Horse (1996), A Man Called Horse (1970), A Man Called Horse III (1982), Soldier Blue (1970), Buffalo Bill and The Indians (1976), and Black Robe (1991).

Throughout this paper, a variety of criteria will be used to judge the films viewed. Movies will be judged on whether or not the Indians portrayed in the films are true Native Americans, white people with skin darkened by makeup, or neither. The movies will also be evaluated in how they portray the Native American culture, including clothing, housing, and language. The films 1492, Christopher Columbus and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery are unique in that they all cover the same time period, the same Native Americans and the same general story, which should be common to nearly everyone in North America. Due to this, it is easy to compare and contrast the Tainos, who have the dubious distinction of being the first to come in contact with the white man during the Age of Discovery. It would be quite easy to construct a paper simply contrasting the historical stories that are told within these three films. Not only do the stories vary, and the relationships between certain characters change, but the portrayal of the Native Americans also varies. The first meeting of the Spaniards and the Indians was shown differently in all three of the movies.

Christopher Columbus and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery were both...

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