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Leaphorn and Chee Do Public TV

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  • Rob
    Indian Comics Irregular #88 PBS has broadcast an adaptation of the Tony Hillerman mystery Skinwalkers. It s the first American production in the formerly
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 29, 2002
      Indian Comics Irregular #88

      PBS has broadcast an adaptation of the Tony Hillerman mystery
      "Skinwalkers." It's the first American production in the formerly
      all-British "Mystery!" series. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
      (11/22/02) explains:

      Set largely on a Navajo reservation and populated almost entirely
      by Indian actors, "Skinwalkers"--adapted for the screen by
      Redford's son, James ("Ring of Fire"), and gracefully directed by
      Chris Eyre ("Smoke Signals")--looks in on a world both exotic and

      The San Francisco Chronicle (11/24/02) continues:

      "Skinwalkers" follows Lt. Joe Leaphorn (Wes Studi) and Officer Jim
      Chee (Adam Beach), who share a heritage but have divergent
      personalities. While Leaphorn is a by-the-book authority figure
      who doesn't look to his ancestors for answers, the younger Chee is
      a medicine man in training and well versed in Navajo history.

      There have been recent movies that treat American Indians with
      respect ("Dances With Wolves," "Thunderheart," "Windtalkers"), but
      all of them are told through the eyes of a white protagonist
      (Kevin Costner, Val Kilmer, Nicolas Cage).

      Other movies just throw a token, one-dimensional American Indian
      into the background. Eyre criticizes those films as "a slap in
      the face" because the characters are barely developed.

      Rob's Review

      My reaction to "Skinwalkers": The above is all true. The movie dealt
      honestly with the Native characters and culture, which is still rare
      in the entertainment media. Nevertheless, I was somewhat
      disappointed. A few problems:

      The movie was filmed in and around Superior, Arizona, southeast of
      Phoenix--not on the Navajo reservation. I never had a good sense of
      where the characters were, which is unfortunate in a movie where place
      is important.

      Hillerman's novels are complex, with lots of interconnected subplots.
      I found it a bit hard to follow what was happening, and I know the
      style and pattern of Hillerman's mysteries. Someone who hadn't read a
      Hillerman book might've got lost.

      Most important, the core of Hillerman's series is the relationship
      between Leaphorn and Chee. And the movie changed that entirely. In
      the books, Leaphorn is the Legendary Lieutenant, the calm, methodical
      veteran who seems to know everything. Although he's a rationalist
      who has assimilated the Western mindset, he's at ease in the Navajo

      In contrast, Chee is the inexperienced cop who's unsure of himself
      and his direction. Part of him wants to emulate Leaphorn, the
      pragmatic professional, and part wants to learn the traditional
      medicine ways.

      The movie almost reverses Leaphorn and Chee. Leaphorn is a blustery,
      procedure-bound outsider who knows little about Navajo culture. Chee
      is the composed, confidant insider who has already balanced detective
      and healing work. Chee shows Leaphorn how to conduct investigations
      on the rez, not the other way around. It's almost painful to see
      Leaphorn falling off a ladder or dismissing a clue that might be

      These characters aren't the Leaphorn and Chee I know. To stretch a
      metaphor, they're like skinwalkers--inhabiting the skins of Leaphorn
      and Chee, but acting like strangers. And that's a shame.

      Rob's rating for "Skinwalkers": 7.5 of 10. For more on the movie, go
      to http://www.bluecorncomics.com/sknwlkrs.htm.

      Thanksgiving Time

      As always, thanks to Victor Rocha for hosting my website, my advisors
      for their answers to my questions, and Blue Corn Comics' fans
      and visitors for their support. Stay tuned for more Indian comics
      action. The best is yet to come.

      Rob Schmidt
      Blue Corn Comics
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