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"Spirit" and the Noble Savage

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  • rvsjr
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 12, 2002
      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
      Spirit....

      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
      http://www.bluecorncomics.com/noble.htm.

      More on Unrealistic Images

      Filmmaker Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho) made similar points at the
      Taos Talking Pictures festival recently. From Indian Country Today,
      4/20/02:

      "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
      to http://www.bluecorncomics.com/reviews.htm.

      Rob Schmidt
      Blue Corn Comics
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