Classic 20th Century Films on Native Indians in America

Published: 2019-09-04 07:00:00
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My term paper will focus on comparing three films of the 20th century and how each film portrayed Native Indians. To achieve this, I have read articles about two of the movies and watched all the three movies in question with regards to Native Indians in America. The sole aim of reading and watching these articles and films is to understand how each director portrays the Native Indians. The theme of these movies revolves around the victimization and brutality the Native Indians faced before and after the civil war. I went ahead and compared the three film productions in question racism and victimization on Native Americans by the white settlers. In this term paper, I will refer to two Western films; John Fords 1956 classic The Searchers, Arthur Penns 1970 film The Little Big Man and Tom Laughlins 1971 film Billy Jack. Westerns are primarily films, poems, and plays that were based on settings of early 16th century. Their main theme revolved around hostilities by Americans towards Indians. Euro-Americans were the white settlers who had migrated from Europe whereas the Native Americans were the Indians. My goal of this paper is to determine and compare how films portray Native Indians and the white settlers. I am going to use different characters in each movie and scenes to bring out the real interpretation of the film with regards to the statement mentioned above.

My paper is divided into sections. The first paragraph after this will give an insight and overview of the three films that I will use as my reference. The second and third paragraph contains the illustrations and interpretation of the film The Searches. The 3rd and 4th paragraph will provide illustrations and analysis of the film Little Big Man. The subsequent sections will contain the film Billy Jack, the comparison of the three films and finally the conclusion.

The first western film is John Fords The Searchers. This film taints both the natives and the whites as the problem to American civilization. This is contrary to other classic western films portrayed only Natives Americans as the root problems of the American society. Rather John Ford explains that actually the white settlers were part of the problem too. Out of sheer ignorance and hatred, they preferred blaming the Native Americans. The Searchers theme revolves around the real obstacles to American civilization after the civil war. John Ford uses the conflict between the native Indians and white settlers to paint a bigger picture for all to see. His main motive is to expose racism and victimization not only against Indians but also other races including African Americans. Leading roles in the film are John Wayne, as Ethan Edwards, and Jeffery Hunter as Martin Pawley. He is a confederate in a mission to find his kidnapped niece Debbie, played by Natalie Wood. On the other hand, Martin Pawley is Aarons adopted son who is of mixed race. Ethan believes the Comanche who are the Native Americans are responsible for not only kidnapping his niece but also murdering his Brothers family. The Comanches leader Scar, played by Henry Brandon is responsible for the kidnapping. He believes that by kidnapping Debbie, he is avenging his sons death at the hands of the Euro-Americans. Through this film, John Ford tries to explain that it is not always the natives who are the cause of American problems but also the white settlers. Similarly, he tries to bring about the aspect of racism on interracial marriages between the two factions and their implications. The second Western film, Little Big Man revolves around an old mans story about the victimization and untold suffering of the Cheyenne (Red Indians) at the hands of the white settlers. The film in itself tries to portray Native Americans as victims in the hands of the White settlers. The leading role is Jack Crabb played by Dustin Hoffman. He narrates in an interview on how his Indian clan suffered at the hands of the white settlers. He is a man who is privileged to have been part of both cultures. Billy Jack, on the other hand, is a film that focused on the oppression of counterculture students by other individuals who disregarded their culture. In this film, Billy Jack is portrayed as the protagonist in this film. He fights and defends the oppressors of counterculture students. He opposes the modern culture unlike heroes in the above-mentioned films.

The Searchers has been credited for being unique among the Western films produced before its release in 1956. John Fords movie specifically targeted moviegoers of the 1950s when racial discrimination was at its peak. He intended to expose the real racial faction that was the obstacle hindering American civilization. Indians who are Native Americans face a lot of discrimination from the white settlers. He stars John Wayne as Ethan Edwards as the character who portrays the above mentality. Similarly, he stars Jeffrey Hunter as Martin Pawley, who is Aarons adopted son and is of mixed race. John Fords movie could not be released at a better time than in the 1950s when racism was at its peak in America. The Searchers outlines the native Indians as a just victim of circumstances hence the cause of their violence. The first scene commences with the massacre of Ethans brother Aaron Edwards, his wife and son. Aaron Edwardss role is played by Walter Coy. Similarly, Dorothy Jordan plays the role of Aarons wife. The massacre leads to the kidnapping of Aarons daughters Debbie and Lucy played by Pippa Scott. The massacre happens to be carried out by the natives led by Scar. Ethan then emerges from a cabin door riding his horse from a rather harsh land to his brothers house. His main motive is to search for his brothers kidnapped daughters Debbie and Lucy. John Through the first scene John Ford portrays Native Indians as a violent group and murderers. On the contrary, the first scene also portrays Ethan as a man who embraces family obligations, and that is the reason he goes out in search of the girls. Martin Pawley, who is of mixed race, is Aaron Edwards adopted son. Ethan has refused to accept him as his kin. Besides that, in one of the scenes, Ethan aims and shoots a Comanche warrior during one of their raids. He specifically aims at the eyes of his victim He argues that shooting his victim's eyes would prevent him from reaching the happy hunting ground. The two men set out on a mission together; to rescue Lucy and Debbie (Stebbins 33). The films director portrays white settlers as staunch racists who discriminated the Native Indians.

The film also highlights the problems native Indians face with regards to racial discrimination. Ethan on his mission of finding the two girls is suspected by Martin to have killed Lucy. The reason for his brutal action is because Lucy is a victim of rape by the Comanche hence she has ceased to be white and deserves to die. Correspondingly, during a search of Debbie, he denounces them as no longer white. to a Calvary officer (Stebbins 32). He argues that since those Comanche warriors raped them, they cease to be white but Comanche. Through this illustration, John Ford displays the US Calvary not as protectors of the vulnerable but as oppressors. Similarly, he portrays how white women who had sexual encounters with the native people were considered as outcasts and deserved to die. On the other hand, he portrays native Indians as rapists and kidnappers of white women in the name of revenge. Later in the film, we come to notice the real motive behind the murder and kidnap of Aarons family and daughters. This is depicted in the scene where Ethan meets Scar, the leader of Comanche warriors, in his quest to rescue Debbie. Scar explains his motive behind the killing and kidnap of Aaron and his wife. He categorically states that he is avenging the death of his sons in the hands of the settlers. Through Scars words to Ethan, John Ford tries to bring out the genesis of the conflict between the two factions. We come to realize that it is the white settlers who started the war against the Indians. Scar and Ethan both have tread on dark pasts before. The two face off, and it is Martin who kills Scar. John Ford portrays Scar as a native Indian with family obligations. Moreover, he portrays Martin as a representative of the new face of Indians who would embrace civilization together with the whites. On the contrary, Scar and Ethan represent the obstacles to American civilization and their elimination in the society would lead to better life. In the majority of the western films, good triumphed over evil. John Ford incorporates this and in the end, Ethan does not enter the Jorgensen farmhouse which represents American civilization and unity (Stebbins 34). This film set a precedent for other films on discrimination against Indians by whites. In 1971, director Arthur Penn launched the film Little Big Man.

Little Big Man is a classic western film whose theme centers on the moral void among the American society predominantly whites. This film was produced in the 1960s when the morals of the American Society had replaced the culture that was in place before civilization. Additionally, it portrayed the brutality and massacre of the Native Americans by the U.S Calvary. The Cheyenne are pictured as being a native community living in harmony initially. Moreover, they are portrayed as holding an established culture. On the other hand, the white settler culture is unjust, and people seem to take advantage of the weak. The film focuses on Jack Crabb, who alternates between two societies; Cheyenne and white cultures. The first scene opens with the aging Jack Crabb in a veteran infirmary speaking into a tape recorder. Jack flashbacks on how he was assimilated by the Cheyenne after his family members were murdered in the raid. There he finds a stable, harmonious community with strong cultural values. The Cheyenne chief, played by Chief Dan George, Old Skin Lodge adopts him (Tavernetti 127).

After some years, the U.S Calvary attack the Cheyenne and Jack are captured and placed in the custody of Baptist minister and his wife. While in captivity he acquires formal education and white values. After learning about the white people, their cultures, and personalities, he disregards white people as exploitative, hypocrites and opportunistic. That prompts him to leave in search of his former home. He is accompanied by his Swedish wife, Olga. Unfortunately, she is kidnapped by Indians after they were ambushed on their way to reunite with the Cheyenne. Jack Crabb returns to his initial tribe courtesy of his brothers. Motivated by his quest to find his kidnapped wife, he joins Custers Calvary. While with Custer, he witnesses the massacre of Indian women and children (Tavernetti 127). Arthur Penn uses this scenario to paint a wider picture of the U.S army involvement in the Vietnam War then. The massacre of the Indian women and children in the film symbolizes the massacre of women and children in My Lai Vietnam. Subsequently, Jack experiences a lot including the death of his wife and son in the hands of Custer and his Calvary. The film portrays the U.S Calvary as the masterminds responsible for the erosion of the Cheyenne harmonious culture. In the process, the U.S Calvary commits crimes against humanity on the Cheyenne. He portrays the white settlers as greedy, goal-oriented with indented personalities (Tavernetti 128). He goes further and describes them as opportunistic. The film helps us understand how the white settlers brutalized the Native American customs and cultures and replaced them with hostile traits in the name of civilization. This represented the countercultures that were experienced in the 1960s. Arthur Penn portrays the Native Indians as vict...


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