June 22, 2016

Cheapskate Film Festival - REEL INJUN

Right now, the topic that's driving a lot of conversation - and controversy - is that of representation and diversity in popular culture. Everything from female Ghostbusters to the casting of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Doc Savage encourages people to share their opinions.

(Mine? I thought Ghostbusters 2 was an unnecessary sequel, and the film was a great done-in-one....but female Ghostbusters work. I think Johnson is a great choice for Doc Savage. And people who complain about having their childhoods "ruined" need to get over themselves. But I digress).

However, 2006's Reel Injun, a Canadian documentary that was featured on PBS - is one of the best examinations of how movies (and other popular culture) have framed an entire group....and how having representation behind the camera is critical for driving greater diversity.

The history of Native American/First Peoples representation is a bit...well, at times it's very problematic. Although initial representations during the silent era were rather positive, eventually Hollywood turned to more negative portrayals, as well as highlighting the "whitewashing" of native peoples.

(Or, to put it bluntly, Johnny Depp isn't the first person to be accused of misrepresentation....and neither is Vanilla Ice. And there's a really good reason why several actors walked off the set of a recent Adam Sandler movie during production).

In addition, there are tales of actors who "presented" as native...but who were far from it. Like the silent actor who later committed suicide. Or even the tale of Iron Eyes Cody (which is especially surprising). But the most powerful part of this production is the input of several people from indigenous tribes. (And my apologies for my phrasing - I'm trying to be as sensitive as possible; any errors or lack of sensitivity in phrasing are clearly my own). Filmmakers and actors like Wes Studi, Graham Green, and Adam Beach (whose performance in 1998's Smoke Signals helped spark the renaissance and I have to admit - I like the actor so much I "cast" him in the lead in a recent short story)

Reel Injun might be a bit hard to find on DVD (which is why I'll also include a streaming link via Amazon), but it's worth it - it's a great hidden treasure that's well worth a look. It's both invigorating and revelatory, and quite honestly, probably the best film featured this week.

Go. Watch. Now.

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