by Jim Ridley
Tomorrow's offering in the ITVS Community Cinema series of free screenings at the Nashville Public Library looks like the most fun yet. It's Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian, filmmaker Neil Diamond's survey of celluloid cliches about American Indians. (The clip above, a bit of poetic revenge, is pretty hilarious.) Here's what jack Silverman wrote in this week's Scene:
What do actors Burt Lancaster, Anthony Quinn, Elvis Presley, Boris Karloff, Chuck Connors and Charles Bronson have in common? They’ve all donned red makeup to play Native Americans. As Charlie Hill, an Oneida/Cree comedian, puts it in Reel Injun, “Chuck Connors as Geronimo. That’s like Adam Sandler as Malcolm X!” Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond’s thoughtful and probing look into Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans, Reel Injun examines the multifaceted movie caricature — vicious, noble, brave, backward, exotic — that has forever imprinted itself on the American psyche. On one hand, John Ford’s Stagecoach — to this day lauded by film critics as one of the greatest movies ever made — set the template for the stereotype of Native Americans as primitive, bloodthirsty savages. On the other, Native Americans have been fetishized on film (and throughout pop culture) for their presumed spirituality or connection with nature. Among Reel Injun’s highlights: a segment on prolific actor Iron Eyes Cody (the famed “crying Indian” from the early-’70s “Keep America Beautiful” PSAs), who desperately tried to hide his Italian ancestry, and a scene from 1964’s A Distant Trumpet in which Navajo actors went off script in their native tongue (and which is accurately translated for the first time, to hilarious effect).
The screening is 2 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 30) at the downtown public library, 615 Church St. It's free and open to the public, followed by a panel discussion featuring Grammy-winning Native American recording artist, painter and speaker Bill Miller; Chanda Joesph from the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Cherokee historian, activist and writer Albert Bender; and JJ Kent, Lakota recording artist, storyteller and cultural educator. Dr. Daniel Usner, Jr., professor of American Indian history at Vanderbilt University, will moderate.