Got Academy Podcast

Native Americans in Movies: Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, Apocalypto | History in Movies

April 27, 2020

Over the course of 400 years, from 1500 to 1900, the interaction between Europeans and Native Americans changed enormously. Initially, the new arrivals stepped off of their boats into a maelstrom of local events. By the end, events would be entirely dominated by European settlement, with native cultures fighting for their survival on the margins.

In this review, we look at three snapshots along the way of this process. We begin with Apocalypto (2006), where the Europeans almost don't matter at all. Then, in Pocahontas (1995), the native people and the settlers are roughly even-keeled and the latter are even temporarily rebuffed. By the end, in Dances with Wolves (1990), autonomous native life only exists in the remote prairies, which are set to change forever as well. There's also an epilogue based on Fargo season 2 (2015), when Native American character Hanzee Dent goes on a killing rampage.

So what of the depiction of native cultures in Hollywood movies? We are long past the horrific "cowboys and Indians" genre, but are things OK now? Have we swapped scalping savages with noble savages? Gil and Rutger explore.

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