Have you ever seen a movie about American Indians that really rang true and authentic? Tamastslikt has a year-by-year lease on “the Great Sioux Uprising” when our local Indians portrayed Sioux on the warpath at Deadman’s Pass in the 1950s. The late Ham Patrick played a warrior holding a white lady captive. It was apparent that it was all he could do not to bust out laughing when he was supposed to be stern and stoic. There were real Indians in the movie but the speaking parts went to others. Ditto, “Pillars of the Sky.”
If you’re old, you may have watched Indian students from the Institute for American Indian Arts as extras in the Billy Jack movie, Walking Tall, but how painful to watch. What about the Disney movie, Catch the Spirit of the Wind, about the Iditarod pioneer, George Attla. That was a terrifically enjoyable movie with native dialog, humorous and sad. It showed how he was taken away from his family at an early age and got TB in the boarding school. Then he overcame his physical disability and won the race. That movie was so good, it totally disappeared from distribution.
Although all Indians dutifully went to see them at the cinema, neither PowWow Highway nor Smoke Signals really hit the mark. Sherman Alexie admitted to having a lot of trouble working with the Hollywood medium trying to get his story to come across as he wanted it. Things like the bad wigs the main characters wore took a toll on reality. Why did Adam Beach need to wear a big wig? The party scenes didn’t look like fun at all. Does anybody really make jokes about General George Custer in everyday parlance?
Of course, Dances with Wolves was an admirable movie. Indian characters were more fully drawn, had more dimension, although there was still the hotheaded warrior, the wise shaman, the picturesque chieftain elements. Even though more male Indian roles seem to get filled with Indian actors, don’t get me started about how often Indian females are played by non-Indian ethnicities. Real progress in seeing true Indian life on the movie screen can’t happen until more Indians get involved in making films independently.
That’s why we have high hopes for MORE THAN FRYBREAD a native-made 90 minute movie that will be shown at Tamastslikt on Monday, March 19, at 6:30pm. The trailer at www.frybreadmovie.com looks well done. Perhaps it will be the landmark movie for authenticity and the true American Indian story. It’s PEPSI PRIMETIME @ THE MUSEUM. Everybody, come see the free movie.