Independent Lens "Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian" on WXXI-TV

Independent Lens "Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian" on WXXI-TV

Sun, 11/27/2011 - 11:30pm

Pictured: Little Big Home Memorial

Credit: Courtesy of Rezolution Pictures

A provocative look at the portrayal of Native Americans in cinema.

Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond takes an entertaining, insightful, and often humorous look at the Hollywood Indian, exploring the portrayal of North American Natives through a century of cinema and examining the ways that the myth of “the Injun” has influenced the world’s understanding—and misunderstanding—of Natives. Narrated by Diamond with infectious enthusiasm and good humor, Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian is a loving look at cinema through the eyes of the people who appeared in its very first flickering images and have survived to tell their stories their own way.  Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian airs Sunday, November 27 at 11:30 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11).
Tracing the evolution of cinema’s depiction of Native people from the silent film era to today, Diamond takes the audience on a journey across America to some of cinema’s most iconic landscapes, including Monument Valley, the setting for Hollywood’s greatest Westerns, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, home to Crazy Horse and countless movie legends. Clips from hundreds of classic and recent Hollywood movies illustrate Diamond’s points, while celebrated Native and non-Native film celebrities, activists, film critics, and historians discuss their perceptions of the big screen Indian in candid interviews. Diamond meets with Clint Eastwood (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, Unforgiven) at his studios in Burbank, California, where the film legend discusses the evolution of the image of Indians in Westerns and what cowboy-and-Indian myths mean to America. 
Legendary Native American activists weigh in on pivotal moments in American Indian history, including Russell Means, who remembers being in the trading post during the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, and Sacheen Littlefeather, who recounts the acceptance of Marlon Brando’s Oscar in protest of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.” Others offering their perspectives include notables such as Robbie Robertson, the half-Jewish, half-Mohawk musician and soundtrack composer (Raging Bull, Casino, Gangs of New York); Cherokee actor Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans, Geronimo); filmmakers Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man) and Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals); and acclaimed Native actors Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves, Thunderheart) and Adam Beach (Smoke Signals, Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers). 

Reel Injun’s humor and star power is balanced with insightful commentary from film critics and historians, including CBC film critic Jesse Wente; Angela Aleiss, author and scholar of American Indian Studies; and Melinda Micco, associate professor of ethnic studies at Mills College, California. The film also explores the range of non-Native actors who have portrayed Natives onscreen and reveals the bizarre secret identity of the iconic “weeping” Indian, Iron Eyes Cody.

In honor of Native American History Month, WXXI-TV and Radio will broadcast a variety of programs featuring the men and women who shaped the Native American experience.