"Spirit" and the Noble Savage
- Indian Comics Irregular #80
DreamWorks' new movie, "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," has a
Native American backdrop. Spirit is a feisty mustang of the Old West
who is "born free" and grows up to lead the Cimarron herd. Critic
Kenneth Turan continues (LA Times, 5/24/02):
What also comes with maturity are encounters with unpleasant white
men, intent on subjugating the West in general and Spirit in
particular. They're epitomized by the Colonel (James Cromwell),
who serves as bondage master during Spirit's brief stay with the
cavalry. If the white people cause every bit of the trouble in
this film, the Native Americans, living as it happens in perfect
harmony with the natural world, are just as schematically
presented as uniformly virtuous. This is especially true of the
young Lakota brave Little Creek (Daniel Studi), who hooks up with
Or as Chris Kaltenbach of the Baltimore Sun puts it:
"Spirit" is awash in wonder, from Matt Damon's narration to the
unwavering nobility of Little Creek and his Native American
brothers and sisters. It's a vision of the West that Hollywood
has embraced ever since "Dances With Wolves"--a wondrous place
until Western Civilization came and did its dirty work.
A correspondent adds her opinion:
Little Creek was very likable, but too good to be true.
Naturally, he talked to animals. The Lakota village looked like a
Thomas Kinkade painting.
If you look at just the visuals, the message is clear. A half-naked
Indian youth contrasts with a fully-outfitted Army officer. It's a
classic: the innocent noble savage vs. the corrupt civilized man.
Anything wrong with that? Well, yes. I've argued before that a
positive stereotype is still a stereotype. It creates lofty
expectations that no real people can meet.
Painting Indians as paragons of virtue only sets them up for a fall.
Your typical non-Indian is apt to say, "Look, they're building
casinos. They don't care about their land or culture. They're in it
for the money just like us."
As I always say, a positive stereotype is better than a negative
stereotype, but reality is best. For more on the subject, see
More on Unrealistic Images
Filmmaker Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho) made similar points at the
Taos Talking Pictures festival recently. From Indian Country Today,
"Second to religion, I think movies have been the most damaging
thing to Indians," said Chris Eyre. "In 100 years of cinema there
aren't portrayals of Indians as people. Indians will watch bad
images of Indians because they are so starved of images of
themselves. It's not about looking at Hollywood studios and
saying 'I hope they are going to get it.' It's about us demanding
it. I'm not against non-Indians making movies about Indians.
It's just there's never a balance."
Romanticized New Age portrayals, such as "Dances with Wolves,"
also came under fire.
"It's manufactured. There's Indian country, and that I know.
Then there are Native Americans wearing dreamcatchers. They're
not people I know," commented Eyre.
Native Media Month
Apparently May was media month as well as Native Heroes month.
Besides appearing on Native America Calling, PEACE PARTY was featured
in a Pequot Times article; on FM 96.1 radio in Vancouver, BC; and in
an hour-long AOL chat. For the nitty-gritty on these guest shots, go
Blue Corn Comics