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Pepe Lepew On December - 23 - 2009

One thing that I’ve really been struck by is Hollywood’s near-obsession with American Indians. I have very mixed feelings about it.

The natives in “Avatar” were an extremely obvious allegory for the Indians of the America West. “Avatar” was very corny and hokey … and pretty predictable. It’s also unabashably “love the Mother Earth” granola bar liberal, but I guess I don’t see the harm in that — not when so many movies have bad messages — especially in light of the fact that the theatre was packed with boisterous little kids who don’t realize it’s corny and hokey.

I’ve always thought Hollywood does a really poor job of portraying Indians, because it tries much too hard to be politically correct and has a tendency to “hold the Red Man down,” so to speak by putting him up on a pedestal as a “noble savage.” Indians are people, with all the strengths and flaws as any person, regardless of ethnicity.

Being Metis, the “noble savage” stuff is very much a sore point with me. Seriously, as a non-tribal member Indian, there are a number of cringe-worthy moments for me in “Dances with Wolves” and in “Thunderheart” and more movies than I can name. I can only think of one movie I’ve ever seen that I thought did a  solid job of portraying Indians and Indian issues — “Smoke Signals,” and that was a limited release movie that not many people have seen. I also thought “Flags of my Fathers” did a good job with the story about Ira, though whenever the movie drifted away from Ira’s character, I thought it got boring. Someone once told me “The Jim Thorpe Story” actually had some good moments, but I’ve never seen it. As an aside, if you want to read an awesome book about Indians, you really need to check out “The Real All-Americans” by Sally Jenkins (she wrote “It’s Not About the Bike.”) It’s a fantastic book about the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and how it became a power in college football.

Anyway, I saw a lot of kids today get some good lessons along with their popcorn … while seeing $400 million of special effects blow lots of crap up.

Oh, and now my kid wants a dragon. Not one of the little blue ones, but the big red one….

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Film

35 Responses so far.

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  1. AlphaBitch says:

    Pepe: where in MT do you live? (If that’s not too personal). I used to drive from Seattle to San Antonio each year; always loved Missoula, not so much Butte (had a bad experience there once -- plus I saw a billboard advertising “Coldest Beer, Cheapest Too!” right next to the campground I had planned on staying at). The Bitteroots were my fave.

    I keep trying to get the hub to do another trek up that way, for old times sake, while we CAN still drive. I used to have a truck, and would crawl in the back to sleep. I once saw -- while driving across MT at about 3AM -- a huge old porcupine, lumbering across the interstate. What I loved was being able to turn off the truck, and just watch it in my headlights, with no other cars coming/going. Perfect peace! and watching the sunrise in Wyoming as I drove……ah, that was bliss for sure!

    • PepeLepew says:

      Western Montana!
      That’s as much as I’m willing to say.
      The Bitterroots do rock, though. There are some awesome mountain climbs in the Bitterroots. Trapper Peak and St. Joe are a couple of absolute monsters.

      • AlphaBitch says:


        Well, it’s time to go dream about those mountains, and the many other beautiful things I have seen.

        Good night to all, and stay warm! -- AB

  2. Tiger99 says:

    As long as we are mentioning other movies these 2 are among my favorites “A Man Called Horse” and “Last Of The Dogmen”…

  3. kesmarn says:

    Haven’t seen Avatar yet, but one thing it really has going for it already, with me, is the fact that the pseudo-Christian right wing absolutely hates it. That’s equal to five stars, two thumbs up, and a couple of Oscars…

    • PepeLepew says:

      I hadn’t heard that, but I did keep thinking all through this movie, “Oh, my god, this is the most left-wing movie I’ve seen in *ages*.”

  4. KevenSeven says:

    Haven’t seen Avatar yet, and I’m really in no hurry. I probably will get a screener in the mail soon. Julie and Julia just came.

    But I heard some of my fave critics comparing Avatar to District 9, which I have seen, and they uniformly preferred District 9.

    Which was a pretty damn good movie.

  5. PepeLepew says:

    I believe I saw Little Big Man on TV once maybe about 35 years ago. I remember very little about it.

  6. nellie says:

    The guilt-ridden, overly romanticized movies that Hollywood makes about American Indians are probably an attempt to atone for the slander of classic westerns like Red River. Yes, I can get bitter over this subject.

    Hollywood does a dismal job of portraying American Indians mostly because it doesn’t bother to get the facts right. Much less the culture (for whatever group they happen to be portraying). Every story is so contrived. And no one seems to ever bother to talk to a Native person before putting a script together! It’s very frustrating. Films with a Native sensibility are very different from blockbuster Hollywood fare. Smoke Signals is a good one. Dance Me Outside is also good.

  7. escribacat says:

    Pepe, I think we talked about Smoke Signals before, didn’t we? Based on the book by Sherman Alexie. I was thinking about going to see this but now I’m not so sure I’ll waste my nine bucks!

  8. whatsthatsound says:

    I have always loved the Grandfather character, Old Lodge Skins, played by Chief Dan George, in “Little Big Man”. That is a great, and overlooked, black comedy about how the West was “won”.
    Dustin Hoffman is his usually great self.

    • Tiger99 says:

      Chief Dan George was great in The Outlaw Josy Wales too…

      • PepeLepew says:

        Awesome movie.

        My favourite Clint Eastwood movie is “High Plains Drifter.” Very, very existential. No Indian themes, however. It’s based on some ancient Japanese story, apparently.

    • escribacat says:

      One of my favorite movies.

    • javaz says:

      I forgot about that movie and that is one of my favorites!
      I love the scene with Faye Dunaway giving Dustin Hoffman a bath, plus the gay Indian and then the one that did everything backwards and then the snake oil salesman that kept losing body parts.
      Oh, we’re going to have to watch that again soon!

      • whatsthatsound says:

        It’s a classic! DH was on a roll back then, with The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy, etc.

        • Emerald1943 says:

          My ex-hubby is a dead ringer for DH! What a cutie-pie! :-) But looks ain’t everything!

        • AlphaBitch says:

          Agreed! I’m amazed anyone remembers Little Big Man, but I was taking an anthropology course (Native Americans) and we went as a class to go see it. My prof had lived for years amongst the Inuit, and he liked the movie. Waiting for Senor LePew’s review…..

          The Graduate on list of top 10 faves of all times.

          • whatsthatsound says:

            I don’t get why it seems to have fallen out of the discussion of great films.
            Like javaz, I love the bathing scene. The pompous preacher, Faye’s husband, comes in and says, “Haven’t you finished scrubbing that boy yet? I’m hungry!”

  9. AlphaBitch says:

    Thanks for the review, Pepe! My husband wants to see the movie; me, not so much.

    What did you think of Little Big Man? One of my favorite movie lines of ALL times was when the chief laid down to die, then started blinking when the rain pelted his face. “Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t.” I think that sums it ALL up for me.

    PS Thanks for the word “Asshat”. I’ve used it more than I had imagined!

    • PepeLepew says:

      It was so long ago that I saw Little Big Man that I don’t remember it.
      Actually, a movie that I *do* remember being pretty true to Indians was “Jeremiah Johnson,” even though some of the Indians were bad guys.

      • AlphaBitch says:

        Hmm..Jeremiah Johnson -- was that Redford?

        I remember how absolutely shocked I was to learn that George Custer was such a shithead. Made me mistrust everything I learned in US History.

        LBM might not be all I remember it to be, but I do remember that one line which I have kept as a life motto. Keeps me sane in otherwise insane times…

        • PepeLepew says:

          Yes, with Redford.

          I love that movie!

          OMG, don’t get me started on Custer.
          Psychotic son of a bitch. Literally.

          • AlphaBitch says:

            Sigh. Now here’s an embarrassing “true confession”. While in the class Native Americans, we were first given Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to read; each night, I would read one chapter, then sit in the bathtub, sobbing uncontrollably. My husband at the time -- the practice husband -- finally convinced me to drop the course after nine nights of tears. (The bathtub was often empty when I began bawling.) I later went on to work on coprolites (fossilized human poo) for the same professor. Perhaps it was his revenge…….

            • nellie says:

              AB, I had a similar experience. I took a course on Supreme Court decisions re American Indians in the American Indian Studies dept while I was in grad school. I got so depressed, I had to drop the class. Which is terrible, since my family is Chickahominy. But I just couldn’t take it.

            • nellie says:

              I knew of the injustice — how could I not. But something about reading and discussing the rationalizations of the justices, their baldface lying and ignoring the law. It was more than I could sit through.

              Good for you for getting involved. The communities certainly need the support.

            • AlphaBitch says:

              Nellie -- Sometimes it seems the more you learn, the less you like! I did work for a law firm in Seattle for many years that represented several Native American tribes in fishing rights cases, so I tried to not just learn about it, but get involved doing something positive about it.

        • bitohistory says:

          AlphaB, I had a friend who was an Asst. cameraman on that pic. They had a shot of a buffalo being shot and killed. He said that they set up in the wee hours, waited many hours, a vet finally shot the bison with a sedative and they filmed for until the he fell. they had to stay until the bison was revived and on it’s way. pack up and packout in freezing weather in 3-4 ft snow, all for a 10-15 second shot. 12 hrs. for 15 secs.
          Then they were accused of shooting and killing a national symbol!! lol

          • AlphaBitch says:

            That’s rich! I went to school and majored in Wildlife Biology. I would often get up before dawn, slog out (rain/cold/incredible heat) and sit for hours to do some bird count, then traipse back in. Did it for years without pay or any SAG benes. Was an odd way of having “fun”. At least here’s hoping your pal got some $$!!

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Wow! Kismet!

  10. javaz says:

    Have you ever seen ‘The Last of the Mohicans?’
    I’m not sure how accurate the movie is, but it did follow the book by James Fenimore Cooper.
    What about ‘Code Talkers?’
    That was a fairly good movie all in all.

    I’ve read other critiques about ‘Avatar’ and others have compared it to ‘Dances with Wolves’ and said it should be named ‘Dances with Aliens.’

    What did you think of the special effects?
    Was the 3-D any good or typical 3-D?
    Did you see it at an IMAX theater or regular?

    I’ve read if you’re not going to see it at an IMAX screen, and want to wait for the DVD, not to bother.

    What do you think?

    • PepeLepew says:

      The nearest IMAX screen to where I live is in Seattle, Wash. You take what you can get in Montana. We’re thankful we can even get 3-D! :)
      The 3-D was pretty cool.
      OK, Last of the Mohicans was actually a pretty good movie, I think. I forgot all about that one. But, personally I *hated* Code Talkers. It was a good idea for a movie, but I thought it was poorly done.

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