If you want to become fully aware of just how biting Hollywood’s stereotypes can be, I suggest you watch a western in a roomful of Native Americans.
this. I was visiting my friend Stanford Addison, a Northern Arapaho
horse trainer who lives on the Wind River Reservation in central
Wyoming. One evening, he decided to watch The
Missing. The movie stars Cate Blanchett as a New Mexico
pioneer. Her daughter gets kidnapped by an extremely unpleasant
Apache shaman and his group of thugs. As she starts the search, Ms.
Blanchett discovers the pinafored bodies of her neighbors strewn on
the garden path, left by assailants who are in the habit of dipping
eagle talons in rattlesnake venom and pressing them into the
alabaster necks of their victims. Not long afterward, she finds her
lover, dismembered and stuffed into a hide pouch, swinging gently
over a campfire.
One of Stanford’s nephews appeared
in the doorway at this point and asked. "Are the Indians the good
guys or the bad guys in this movie?"
His cousin, one of
five family members watching in the darkened room, replied,
"We’re always the bad guys."
I shifted in my chair,
feeling my throat contract with the strangeness of seeing a
western, for the first time, through Native American eyes. I was
clearly the only one who was suffering. Everyone else sat, relaxed,
in their plastic chairs. Addison, who was paralyzed in a car crash
25 years ago, lay unperturbed on his bed, stroking his new pit bull
pup, a silky little female with blue eyes and light brown hair. Her
nature ran so counter to the reputation of her breed that Addison
had named her Shy.
Just then, on the screen, Cate
Blanchett spat, "Indians!" with pure disgust and fear. The Apache
shaman blew some dust into the eyes of a white man who started
bleeding from his eyeballs, and commenced dying in dusty, noisy
agony. I got up, saying it was late and I needed to go.
"You just can’t take it, can you?" Stan laughed.
said, "You’re right. I can’t."
But a larger
lesson lay in store. A few weeks later, one of Stan’s nephews
and I decided to go to the movies in Riverton. Riverton is a town
that’s had its share of troubles. The white supremacist World
Church of the Creator relocated there a couple of years ago. It
didn’t take long for it to turn tail and go back to Illinois,
but the fact that it moved here, to a town that is located on the
Wind River Reservation (although it isn’t legally part of it)
says a lot about which race has dealt out the suffering in this
country and which race has received it.
When I went to
pick up Daniel, his cousin Aaron and uncle JR both said they wanted
to go, too. We were running a little late for the chosen movie
— The Passion of the Christ. That was fine
with me. I wasn’t in the mood to see Jesus get beaten to
death in slow motion, and Hidalgo was starting
20 minutes later. Perfect. Any takers? Nope.
By the time
we walked in, about 15 minutes late, any hope of seeing Jesus
unbloodied and whole had evaporated. I had been instructed to keep
a close eye on JR, because he had gone into a coma after a car
accident about 20 years ago. He had come out of it remarkably well,
but at 40 he was still prone to taking unannounced, lengthy walks
through the high desert.
"When he don’t turn
around, we call the BIA cops," Stan told me.
73-year-old mother, Stella, was more direct. "Watch him," she told
me sternly as we left. So I watched JR, and JR watched Jesus get
peeled like an onion by the Romans. Riveted, JR didn’t move a
Eventually, buoyed by sheer gratitude that the
end of the movie was near, I relaxed enough to actually watch the
crucifixion scene. The cross was hoisted and Jesus delivered the
line that clinched the movie: "Father, forgive them. They know not
what they do." A single tear dropped to the dirt, splashing as
perfectly as physics and cinematography would allow.
was surprised to feel tears in my own eyes. On the way home, my
companions talked about how they’d loved the movie. I said
how much the crucifixion line had touched me.
said Aaron. "It reminds me of me."
Of Native Americans?
Because of what white people have done
to your people?
"Yeah," said Aaron. "Yeah," echoed
Daniel. "Yeah," said JR.