Tag Archives: film and stereotypes of native americans

1969 film “The Exiles”

I came across this film through the suggestion of a friend, although we are in the final days of ETEC521 it really fits with a number of discussions from weeks past.  Released in 1969, the same year as the Canadian Government released the White Paper, The Exiles is an American production chronicling the events of one Friday night for group of Native Americans in Los Angeles.  After befriending a group of Native Americans in downtown LA, writer Kent Mackenzie broached the subject of a film about their life experiences, asking the group to help write the script, with their own narration, and with them as partners in the film’s production. Mackenzie was attempting to deconstruct the exotic  portrayal of “The Other” common in films about Native Americans of the day.  While the film today might be considered a narrative fiction, in the context of it’s writing and release it was considered a documentary. A more thorough description of the film’s history and restoration can be read here – I found it to be a fascinating read.

View the trailer here: http://youtu.be/9VepP9Eyfp0

This film was re-released in 2008 by Sherman Alexie, writer of Smoke Signals, and Charles Burnett. The Exiles was on late night television last night although it’s also available for purchase.

Common Portrayals of Aboriginal People – Media Awareness Network

Many others have referenced this webpage and I debated not writing about it, but was so impressed with the concise commentary provided that I decided to draw more attention to it.  The site is an introduction to media portrayals of Aboriginals in Canada and the U.S..

One of the most thought-provoking lines on the page comes from Ward Churchill: “Dehumanization, obliteration or appropriation of identity, political subordination and material colonization are all elements of a common process of imperialism,” he says. “The meaning of Hollywood’s stereotyping of [American] Indians can be truly comprehended only against this backdrop.”

The Media Awareness Network is well-regarded for its critical examination of media stereotypes.  I have used their materials on Internet Privacy previously and found them suitable for school-aged teens.  This page grabs student attention by noting that in the early days of film, Italian and Spanish actors often played Indian roles because they had the appropriate ‘skin tone.’  The fact that they aren’t actually Aboriginal was secondary.  The page outlines in very clear language some of the misconceptions that media have either intentionally or unknowingly created:


  • the Indian Princess – there is no structure of loyalty within tribes
  • the Native Warrior – ‘savagery’ stereotypes drive need for colonization
  • the Noble Savage – special spiritual powers not accorded to anyone else

Historical Inaccuracies

  • Dress, practices, spirituality of Aboriginal actors fuels stereotypes

Stereotyping by Omission

  • for example, Chicago has a significant Aboriginal population, but not a single Aboriginal patient has ever been treated on the television show ER

Simplistic Characterizations

  • Aboriginals given few lines and are relegated to minor roles.  In Dances with Wolves, the only voice of significance in the film is an US Army captain – why?

Interestingly, there is some discussion of the role that stereotypes have played in inflaming imperialism.  Wendy Rose’s article from the New Yorker is referenced.  She writes: “there’s a whole school of thought that believes that the stereotypes of Native people and the Wild West must still be maintained in today’s society.”

To suggest that Aboriginals are not still being subjugated by Hollywood and any number of television production studios ignores the glaring realities that this website raises.  On a separate page, the authors raise some excellent questions to trigger student inquiry into relationship between Aboriginals and the media:

  • Who selected or created these images and stories? Why does it matter who made these selections?
  • Whose voices are being heard? And whose voices are absent? Why?
  • Why are certain stories selected for the news and others not?
  • Are Aboriginal people shown as real human beings in films and TV programs or do they seem wooden and two-dimensional?
  • Do depictions in movies and TV shows respect tribal, cultural and regional differences?

The greater questions of authentic voice, authorship, intellectual property, decolonization are not really examined on this site.  The pages are useful in getting students started on the path to understanding, but students will need to push well beyond this website if they wish to engage in critical study.

Hollywood Stereotypes of Native Americans

Evonne’s post and video were so great I had to follow up.  After watching the video she posted, I went to the youtube site to watch some similar videos.  (Thanks for the inspiration, Evonne!)

This video is part 2 of the previous film we watched.  Part 1 finished with the great quote: “A Nation that does not know its history has no future.”

Part 2 begins with a look at the film “Smoke Signals” – a film by director Chris Eyre who is of Cheyenne-Arapaho Native American descent.  This ties in well with my discussion #4 posting this week where I said that it is imperative that aboriginal people have a hand in manufacturing their own media representations of themselves.  “Smoke Signals” is a great example.

“The only way we’ll change it is to do our own movies!”

Native American Filmmaking


How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native Americans

Related Videos of Stereotyping Indigenous People


This website is a great resource for Module 2’s theme of Stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples. It has great videos about many different aspects of Indigenous peoples and their cultures including many of the different stereotypes that Hollywood has presented and supported of Indigenous peoples. The Youtube video is embedded on the page and links to similar films with similar themes are listed below with a description of the video and the video on the left. The site is user-friendly and easy to navigate. This site will be an excellent resource for my research on Elders and Technology as the Hollywood representation of Indigenous peoples can’t be ignored.


The video How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native Americans includes interviews of Indigenous people (some actors) and their thoughts on Hollywood’s representation of their culture and people. They indicated that growing up with these images on film of their people, they never saw their own image in their reality, instead, they saw the fantasized Hollywood version of how their lives and cultures were and should be. It discusses the ‘white audience’ and how they have influenced the content of Native American films. The portrayal fo the white-man was unrealistically positive, always coming out ahead and better than his Indian foe. They confuse the Native American and Euro-American phenomenon and try to perpetuate the image of the savage Native American and white, Western mainstream Again, this correlates well with Module 2’s Prins (2002) reading and his description of the duality of the “paradox of primitivism”. I love the final quote in the film from a Native American: “A Nation that does not know its history has no future!” That’s a very powerful statement and one Western mainstream should acknowledge.