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Drama Movies

June 27 2017 Drama Movies Newsletter

"Authenticity in Native American films became a major critical issue in the late Sixties. While fully recognizing that Hollywood is an entertainment business rather than an educational institution, critics argued that the distortions regarding Native Americans were far more significant than the liberties taken in the typical Hollywood historical romance or uplifting biography. Native American films were a direct account of the very formation of the nation and a reflection of its basic values." Dan Georgakas in "The Political Companion to American Film" (1994)

Authenticity is a tricky subject when discussing film. In the paragraph following the above quote, Dan Georgakas references the memoir of Iron Eyes Cody. Cody appeared in hundreds of Westerns and wrote a book titled "My Life as a Hollywood Indian". In 1996, however, a reporter alleged that Cody was actually born to Italian immigrant parents and his real name was Espera Oscar DeCorti. It would seem that it was an open secret among the American Indian community. One year before the story was reported in print, Hollywood's Native American community honored Iron Eyes Cody for his contribution to film as a "non-Native".

Iron Eyes Cody was nicknamed the "Crying Indian" for a series of very effective anti-pollution ads he did in the Seventies. (You can see them on Youtube.) Both of the films I write about this week feature subplots about the environment and illegal mining. "Thunderheart" and "The Activist" take place in the 1970s, but the use and boundaries of native lands are still being disputed. An example is the recent protests in North Dakota over the Dakota Access oil pipeline. In a somewhat ironic twist, an activist named Chase Iron Eyes is contesting charges that he incited a riot during the protests.

I don't think enough stories have reached the screen regarding the conflicts between U.S. law enforcement and the American Indian. An excellent book on the subject is by investigative journalist Steve Hendricks, titled "Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country".

Here's the latest article from the Drama Movies site at BellaOnline.com.

Thunderheart and The Activist Film Review
"Thunderheart" and "The Activist" are political thrillers that also comment on the stereotyped view of the American Indian in Hollywood films.


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Angela K. Peterson, Drama Movies Editor

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