Last night marked a historic day in the continuing education of Adrienne K. I finally saw Dances with Wolves. How, you may be asking yourself, did I survive 24 years of life and 6 months of blogging about Native images in pop culture without seeing this piece of American history? Your guess is as good as mine. Frankly, I just never got around to it.
So I won’t do a play-by-play analysis of the movie, there is a lot of good and bad throughout, and most of you probably saw it 20 years ago when it was released (20 years! can you believe it?). But one thing that struck me, after sitting through all 3 hours and 4 minutes? Nothing happens. There isn’t some elaborate plot line, there are two or three pockets of action, but that’s it. Yet, it was a critically-acclaimed film that won several Oscars. In the words of my friend H., “It won the Best Picture Oscar because it was 3 hours of straight-up imperialist nostalgia.*” and I agree.
If you needed any proof, remember the final text of the movie? I.e. the last image movie-goers have in their mind as they leave the theater?
“Thirteen years later, their homes destroyed, their buffalo gone, the last band of free Sioux submitted to white authority at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. The great horse culture of the plains was gone and the American frontier was soon to pass into history.”
Yeah. What about all those Native actors that you used to make your fancy movie? What about the Lakota language used throughout that obviously someone had to teach you? While the movie made some important steps (for its time), that final screen negates it all for me. Solidifying, once again, that “real” Indians don’t exist anymore, that we are a part of history and not the present day, etc.
I kept thinking back to the trailer for the documentary “Reel Injun” (I’ve mentioned it briefly before, and I can’t wait to see it). The film explores the origins and history of the created “Hollywood Indian”, but the trailer has a bit of analysis about Dances with Wolves (starts at about 1:04):
I love when John Trudell says “It’s a story about a white guy. And Indians are just the T and A.” So very true.
Next on my list of “important” modern movies about Indians I haven’t seen? Last of the Mohicans.
*Imperialist Nostalgia: a mood of nostalgia that makes racial domination appear innocent and pure; people mourning the passing or transformation of what they have caused to be transformed. Imperialist nostalgia revolves around a paradox: A person kills somebody and then mourns the victim; or someone deliberately alters a life form and then regrets that things have not remained as they were. . . Imperialist nostalgia uses a pose of “innocent yearning” both to capture peoples’ imagination and to conceal its complicity with often brutal domination (R. Rosaldo, Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis) (AK note: embarrassingly I have this book within arms reach right now)