Voodoo Villain Hurts "The Missing"
- Indian Comics Irregular #103
Ron Howard's new western presents an Indian villain straight out of
the pages of pulp fiction. Eric Schweig's character, known as
Pesh-Chidin, is one of the nastiest Natives ever to appear on-screen.
You have to go back to Magua in "The Last of the Mohicans" (published
in 1826) or Injun Joe in "Tom Sawyer" (published in 1876) to find
an Indian of comparable evil.
Liam Lacey's review in the Globe and Mail, 11/26/03, gives "The
Shot in classic widescreen, the film features a pair of
broad-as-the-frontier performances by Cate Blanchett as a "healer"
and Tommy Lee Jones as her estranged father who lives as an Indian,
as they join on a quest to save a teenaged girl from an Apache
Lacey puts "The Missing" in historical context:
Though based on a novel, the movie is obviously derived from John
Ford's hugely influential late 1956 western "The Searchers," in
which John Wayne plays an obsessive, native-hating Confederate
veteran who travels on a five-year quest with his half-native
nephew to track a Comanche chief who has kidnapped a teenaged girl
from their family. The film, which has influenced everything from
Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider" to Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" to
George Lucas's "Star Wars," is a disturbing milestone in movie
history: Homeric in sweep, it reveals a pathological racism
underlying the western myth.
More pointedly, Lacey tells some of "The Missing's" problems in
As Jones and Maggie strike out to rescue Lilly, they're accompanied
by her spunky younger sister, and eventually a couple of good
Indians who are happy to die for their cause. The
self-consciousness of the script on racial issues borders on the
embarrassing: White and native are both evil, the bad native is
the evilest. The witch turns human bodies into giant bouillon
cubes, uses a hairbrush to induce blistering fevers, blinds a
travelling photographer and shoves sand in his victims' mouths.
Another review explores the stereotyping further. From the
Native Times, 11/27/03:
They're savage, they're gritty, they smell bad, and the leader,
Chidin (Eric Schweig), has bad skin and hideous facial scars just
in case you weren't sure he was bad. He blows some awful-bad
powder on you that makes you squirt blood out of your eyes and then
you die. If he's out of his nasty voodoo dust, he'll bludgeon you
with his mallet faster than it takes him to blow his nose.
It's unfortunate that the stereotypes are so blatant, and that
Indian people are again reduced to freakish witch doctors with
magic death potions and no impulse control, because the movie is
well produced. Which is what makes stereotyping so harmful, it is
often hidden in a good movie.
Curiously, some Natives see "The Missing" in a different light. An
Associated Press article explains how today's Mescalero Apaches view
the movie's Apaches:
Apaches appreciate the film for showing them as they were--the good
and the bad, family-oriented, generous, faithful to their religion
"It made me feel proud," said Megan Crespin, 8, a third-grader from
Santo Domingo School.
This article offers only one comment on the stereotypes noted
previously: that Apaches enjoyed seeing themselves portrayed "as they
were--the good and the bad." True, having a variety of types is
better than having only negative types--e.g., savage, stoic, or
good-for-nothing Indians. But even better is having characters who
are multifaceted--who have conflicting traits, both good and bad, as
real people do.
For more on "The Missing," visit
Blue Corn Comics