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ITVS Community Cinema: Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian

When: Sat., Oct. 30, 3 p.m. 2010

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)

Jack Silverman

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