Review Essay Sample of the Documentary Film Reel Injun

Published: 2019-06-05
Review Essay Sample of the Documentary Film Reel Injun
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Culture Movie Stereotypes
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1457 words
13 min read

The documentary film Reel Injun takes a humorous albeit serious take on the depiction of Aboriginal Peoples in Hollywood films over the last 100 years. The documentary is centered on the directors road trip to tourist destinations and film locations throughout America. In the course of his travels, he meets influential people in the film industry related to Aboriginal peoples and the films about them. The director, Neil Diamond does some off the camera voice narration which although spare, fits the documentary well. Most of the narrative is told by the participants. In Reel Injun, the impact of Hollywood stereotypes on the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people are critically examined. The evaluation seeks to explore the issues that surround the promotion of these stereotypes and their reception in the public domain.

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The documentary film Reel Injun examines the impact of the stereotypes proliferated by Hollywood and their impact on relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Additionally, the effect of the conventional films and their portrayal of Aborigines, on contemporary Aboriginal youth, are examined. The documentary film Reel Injun is made up of clips from hundreds of classic Hollywood. For instance, there are shots from classic films such as Stagecoach, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, and Dances With Wolves. The film documentary also features interviews with big names in the film industry such as Clint Eastwood and Jim Jarmusch, actors Adam Beach and Graham Greene, and Native American activists John Trudell and Sacheen Littlefeather (Independent Lens). As a parting shot, Reel Injun takes a look at how modern Aboriginal filmmakers for instance Chris Eyre and Zacharias Kunuk are shifting the manner in which Aboriginal Peoples are depicted on the silver screen.

The major conflict in the film Reel Injun is the widespread misrepresentation of Aboriginal people and their culture. As one of the characters observes, Up here, we dont wear feathers or ride horses. But because of the movies, a lot of the world still thinks we do (ITVS). Aborigines in the film industry are portrayed as primitive people living quaint and rustic lives. They need a white person to save them from their predicaments or to educate them on the ways of the civilized world. White people are portrayed as saviors and no matter what they do to the Aborigines, it is justified by their implied superiority in terms of moral authority and technological advancements.

From the film Reel Injun, it is also observed, The [dominant] culture wanted to perpetuate the idea that these people are now mythological. They dont even really exist; theyre like dinosaurs. The impact of this perspective on the Aborigines is that their culture has been assigned an allegorical role to represent cultures that are not significant, inconsequential or represent oppression and weakness. Through conventional films, the Aboriginal culture is relegated to the periphery of conventional acceptance in society. This relegation has several implications, one being that it undermines Aboriginal culture.

When youre kids and youre trying to play cowboys and Indians, and if youre an Indian, well, doesnt that mean youre going to lose all the time? (Slant Magazine)

Aborigines are portrayed as a lesser people because their culture is not accorded any due respect. Additionally, the Aboriginal culture is swept under the carpet. The implication of this portrayal by Hollywood is that Aboriginal culture is backward thing that needs to be given only negative attention and where possible kept out of sight.

Conventional Hollywood films have reduced the image of the Native Americans to a pack of bloodthirsty savages. The offensive caricatures of primitive warlike people the Native Americans are supposed to be is proliferated by Hollywood. Native Americans are depicted as "injuns" who were always brutally in the way of the progress of the "real" Americans, which usually implies white people (Slant Magazine). The Reel Injun provides a Native American point of view into the injustices the Native Americans have experienced historically by recounting them in context. The highs and lows of the big-screen incarnation of Indians are examined. However, the big-screen incarnations are mostly made of lows. There is little positive portrayal of the Native Americans. Additionally, as revealed by Reel Injun, even when an Aborigine takes up a leading role, they eventually need the assistance of a white person or people to overcome conflicts.

In the early days of American cinema, the films were quite favorable towards the natives. As the epoch of sound and color started, there was a dramatic shift in perspectives and perceptions. Films that had positive depictions of Native Americans did not do well at the box office. At the same time, Hollywood was looking for fresh villains. The Native Americans fit the bill for Hollywood. As long as money was being made out of the modus operandi, Hollywood paid no attention to the impact of the portrayals. Films continued to be churned out up to the present day.

With the increase in popularity of Western culture, the cinematic notion that Indians were brave, stoic, and silent, with the exception of when they were whooping it up in their excitement to slay white people (Slant Magazine). This was coupled with the poisonous characterizations that accompanied stereotypes grouping all Native peoples into one, generic, all-encompassing tribe. Subsequently, on the screen, all Indians regardless of age, gender or rank, became expert equestrians and dressed the same.

This is an ingenious act of colonialism. Youre essentially robbing Indians of an identity and grouping them into one. (The Sociological Cinema)

As pointed out in Reel Injun, it is a fact that some tribes may have fit certain aspects of those stereotypes; it certainly was not an accurate representation of all tribes. In contrast to the cinematic imitations, no one wore a headband among the Aborigines. In all likelihood, the headband was introduced by filmmakers to assist white actors to prevent their long-haired wigs from falling off during filming.

The aspect of white actors wearing wigs to portray Native Americans introduces another long-standing problem; the problem of native roles being played by white people (The Sociological Cinema). As stated in Reel Injun, a participant observes, White people playing Native roles? I love it because its funny. As remembered by Clint Eastwood in an interview on Reel Injun, on one Western, the director asked for a real native, upfront. The director needed to see the real thing. However, the only obstacle as Eastwood recalls, they could not find any Native American at all.

Major films such as Little Big Man and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest get their credit as opposed to film such as Dances With Wolves get a lot of negative feedback apart from Graham Greene's performance (Slant Magazine). The films that portray Native Americans as vulnerable and primitive outrage Russell Means. Means argues that they make his people (the Lakota) look like they needed the advice of a white man to instruct them on fighting techniques. Means asserts that the Lakota are the only people in history to beat the United States military on United States soil.

Spanning quickly in time through the decades in film, Reel Injun provides a lot of information in its 90 or so minutes of running time. With the conventional documentary format that mixes clips and talking head interviews, the director, Neil Diamond, provides footage of his tours. The travels of Diamond provide a glimpse into the present day state of life on different reservations. Diamonds travels into reservations also allow him to interview individuals who are not so renowned and get their point of view based on their experiences. The individuals are useful for the documentary because they provide information relevant to the discussion. One of the most moving scenes is one where children in a classroom, young children are shown the chain of events during the brutal massacre in Little Big Man.

Director Neil Diamond provides an honest and genuine point of view in his documentary film Reel Injun. The depiction of the history of the Hollywood Indian is accurate in its portrayal of the suffering that Aborigines have undergone socially due to the portrayals of their culture in Hollywood. The documentary film features interviews with several prominent Aboriginal personalities such as Adam Beach, Graham Greene and Robbie Robertson. The documentary film succeeds in its portrayal of the conflict that is misrepresentation of Native American culture by conventional films.

Works Cited

Independent Lens. "Reel Injun | Native Americans Portrayal in Hollywood | PBS." Independent Lens. PBS, 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

ITVS. "Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian - ITVS." Independent Television Service - ITVS. Independent Television Service - ITVS, 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

Slant Magazine. "Reel Injun | Film Review." Slant Magazine. Slant Magazine, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

The Sociological Cinema. "Reel Injun." The Sociological Cinema. The Sociological Cinema, 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

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