Native American Films

Native Americans are primarily known for appearing in stereotypical bad guy roles in Western films, but in the past thirty five years, there have been a few films that feature Native Americans in a different light.

For most of the twentieth century, Native Americans were featured as brutal savages in Westerns. The 1914 film Battle at Elderbush Gulc showed young Indians shot while preparing to eat the puppies of a white girl. Geronimo (1939) documents the Sixth cavalry defeating the "war-mad demon, Geronimo" as it was stated in a tag line.

Most Westerns focused on the Native Americans as ruthless and brutal at worst and second class at best. But, there were a few exceptions. Broken Arrow, from 1950, featured a soldier who saved an Apache boy's life and then tried to serve as an ambassador between the Indians and the Army.

The film Billy Jack (1971) featured a Green Beret Vietnam War veteran who was half Cherokee. The film contained violence, but it also focused on the plight and mistreatment of Native Americans and the character was portrayed as a hero. Dances with Wolves (1990) featured a veteran from the Civil War who head out west. He befriends and is accepted into a local Sioux tribe. The film won seven Academy Awards that year.

Windtalkers (2002) was about the Navajo code talkers and how their sending codes in their native language helped the U.S. win World War II. One of the lead roles in the film was played by Adam Beach, who is of Saulteaux descent, which is a branch of the Ojibwa nation. Beach also appeared in Dance Me Outside (1995), about a young Indian man who is confused about his direction in life, and Smoke Signals (1998), about two young men living on the Coeur D'Alene reservation in Idaho.

Each year, the American Indian Film Festival celebrates the culture and tries to foster goodwill between the film industry and Native Americans. It has been held in San Francisco, California annually for over 30 years!

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