Making the White Man’s Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies
Angela Aleiss, lecturer,
Published in 2005 by Praeger Publishers, Making offers a history of Native Americans on the silver screen, examining forgotten or “lost” Western films as well as behind-the-scenes anecdotes and interviews with filmmakers and writers. “Making” includes interviews with screenwriters Michael Blake (“Dances With Wolves”), Chris Eyre (“Smoke Signals”), John Fusco (“Thunderheart”) and Elliot Silverstein (“A Man Called Horse”). Aleiss examines rare, behind-the-scenes photos of Native Americans in Hollywood, cites employment statistics of Native American performers in the movies, and production correspondence from such legendary filmmakers as Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, David O. Selznick and Jack Warner. “The image in Hollywood movies of savage Indians attacking white settlers represents only one side of a very complicated picture,” said Aleiss. “I’m giving Hollywood a chance to explain how and why, for better or worse, images of Native Americans got on the screen.” Aleiss points to the B-movie as a big factor in the portrayal of Native Americans. “They were relatively cheap productions that many baby boomers grew up with when they were syndicated heavily on TV in the 1950s and 1960s. As new feature Westerns emerged, they reflected concepts of brotherhood forged in World War II. Characters may have been little better than stereotypes but they were sympathetic stereotypes.” Films may change the way they portray individual Native Americans but the Old West has been a staple of American entertainment since the 19th century’s dime novels. Americans’ appetites for Westerns runs on a 20-year cycle, Aleiss argues, and predicts movie theaters will welcome back the Western in five to 10 years. Aleiss has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Toronto. Her articles have appeared in Variety, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.