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American Indian Film Report From Kiowa Scout!!!

Hey folks, Harry here... some of you may well remember Kiowa Scout's last pair of reports. If not...just search for Kiowa and you'll turn them up! Anyways... here's her latest look at the Film and Television work of American Indians illuminated on silver and small screens everywhere!

Hello, Harry. Kiowa Scout here with an update from Indian Country. There are some exciting things happening for American Indians on television and film.


Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves), Wes Studi (Geronimo: An American Legend), and Adam Beach ( Smoke Signals)all had significant roles in mainstream films this year. Progress? Well, yes and no.

Darabont's "The Green Mile" provided the best Indian role this year. It was a five-minute scene for an Academy Award-nominated actor. However, Graham Greene's 'Bitterbuck' character initiates the pathos of the film. Bitterbuck is the first inmate executed. His character offers the audience one surprise. His character is a Christian. Most in the dominant culture view us all as animalists( those who worship nature), thereby 'pagan'. That is also a fallacy.

The spiritual life of many indigenous tribes is monotheistic (one diety) and permeates all aspects of existence (not just on Sundays). Animals, as living moving creatures were and are seen as being on equal footing with humans. Because the Creator made all living things, we are relatives of the animals. Nature and the elements are tools that the Creator uses for his own purposes, therefore they too deserve respect. Constant gratitude and humility to the Creator are exemplified throughout the day in prayer (not to animals, but to a single God). Given this, Christianity rings true for many Indians. A great percentage of us practice Christianity.

In Bitterbuck's final scene the top of his head is shaved in order to provide a conduit for the electricity that soon thereafter is shot into his body. Most audiences may recognize the significance of hair to Indians, but may not understand why. To most tribes, the human body is sacred. It belongs to the Creator and houses our soul. Like everything else, hair is a spiritual gift. It is only cut to signify respect for the loss of a loved one during mourning.

American Indian spiritual leaders continue the struggle to help our young men sentenced to "iron houses" find balance in their hearts and solace for their souls. Today's incarcerated American Indians fight for the right to practice their religion, which includes keeping their hair. State courts across the country debate this issue regularly.

So, "The Green Mile" may not bring in any mainstream awards for Graham Greene. Nevertheless, Indian Country is proud not only of the actor's performance, but of the man as well. His talent and his ethnicity shine for the whole world to see.


Several minority groups challenged the television industry this fall concerning its lack of diversity. The networks are responding with a slight increase in storylines and casting choices for all minorities, including American Indians.

This trend is most notable in the science-fiction and action genres. NBC'S "Pretender" and "Profiler", CBS's "JAG", and "Walker, Texas Ranger", Fox's "The X-Files", WB's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Roswell" all have featured Native-themed plotlines and actors. The success of these efforts is dependent on one's viewpoint.

For the networks, "it's all about the Benjamins, Baby!" We all know that their primary concern is the advertisers. For the producers, it may be more about expanding fanbases. For the writers, it's about balancing plot devices with cultural accuracy. For the Indian actors, it's about pleasing the director or being true to their cultural knowledge.

I believe that most television viewers accept the idea of poetic license when it comes to judging the verity of storylines. We all understand that it may be necessary to stretch the truth a bit when condensing a person's life down or an historical incident to a two-hour timeframe. Life is messy, but TV isn't supposed to be. However, it is just as important that culture and history remain relevant aspects of plot and characterization.

I have found that WB's "Roswell" is a great barometer of current trends in television. While the real world Roswell is home to a substantive Indian population, I was pleasantly surprised to see any in the television version. Yet, there they are. The young protagonists make several visits to a nearby reservation. Ned Romero (Mystic Warrior, Star Trek Voyager) is a shaman with connections to the aliens' crash in the desert. Relative newcomer Tod Thawley (Mortal Combat: The Animated Series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) plays a young man from the reservation who becomes involved with the young aliens.

Both of the above-mentioned actors are wonderful casting choices. It was such a revelation to see an old Indian man who spoke excellent English with no stereotypical cadence to his voice. Furthermore, we saw a young Indian man in casual street clothes and short hair. Oh my God! Modern living Indians. What is this world coming to?

On the other hand, Michael Horse (The Lone Ranger, Twin Peaks, Passenger 57) plays the town's deputy. I remember being very excited at the prospect of a regular cast member being an Indian. I was so hoping that one of Indian Country's 'best and brightest' would be chosen. One of my personal favorites was asked to try out and I kept my fingers crossed that for once talent would be recognized. Alas, I was wrong.

It would be nice to commend TPTB at "Roswell" for using unknown Indian actors for a change. I'm sorry, but Michael Horse's Deputy character is as dull as a brick. Horse has one note to his acting, stoicism. If they had signed Pato Hoffmann (which almost happened), the Deputy character would have sparked interest in the audience. His leading man looks would appeal to "Roswell's" mainly female audiences. Hoffmann could open the doorway to interesting plotlines, maybe even an interracial romance. I am quite sorry to say this. But, in my personal opinion Michael Horse's looks have faded far beyond leading man status. The stoic thing was fine when he was younger and better-looking, but now it's merely boring. It feeds the stereotype rather than usurps it.

I sincerely mean no personal disrepect towards Mr. Horse or his fanbase. He has done much to open doors for later Indian actors. As a human being, I'm sure that he's done many fine things for his people. However, a fine human being does not necessarily translate into fine acting.

This very situation is what continues to keep Indians out of Hollywood. Casting directors pick known actors for recognizability, but at what cost? In my personal opinion, it feeds into the mainstream Hollywood practice of stereotyping. "If this is the best Indian actor out there for this role, then we were right. Indians are inferior", so Hollywood continues to tell America with its cameras. If the image is to be changed, then it must be done by American Indians, part of the intended audience.

We, as an audience must press for change. We must push forward our best and brightest. We aren't ALL stoic monoliths. We don't ALL speak in broken English. We don't ALL have a nasally Northern tone in our voices. We don't ALL have long dark hair. We aren't ALL even full-blooded. In short, changing Hollywood means opening up our OWN image of who and what is Indian.


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