History10 Sep 2007 02:39 pm
Long after white settlers had overcome the last bit of resistance from Native Americans, killing many and exiling the rest to impoverished reservations, the insults visited upon Indian tribes continues, especially in Hollywood. Depictions of Native Americans on film have almost always been extremely stereotypical and offensive portrayals of blood-thirsty “reds.” Even when films have tried being more sympathetic, they have been condescending in a different way: depicting all Native Americans as an undifferentiated mass of wise primitives, in touch with the land and the “spirits” of nature.
A tremendous exception to this rule is Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film Dead Man. It is the story of an accountant names William Blake (played by Johnny Depp) who travels for work to the Western town of Machine. Soon after arriving, he is shot and badly wounded, eventually being taken up by a Native American named “Nobody” who cares for him (and, incidentally, tells him all about the British poet of the same name that Depp’s character has never heard of). Significantly, “Nobody” is not just “Indian.” He is half Blood and half Blackfoot. As Jarmusch said in an interview with film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, “I wanted to situate him as a Plains Indian, so I chose those two tribes that did intermix at certain points historically but also were at war with each other.” This attention to detail is almost unheard of in Hollywood depictions of Native Americans, and it pervades Jarmusch’s film (which also includes untranslated bits in the Native American languages Blackfoot, Makah and Cree). Dead Man is a great film all around. And a soundtrack by Neil Young certainly doesn’t hurt.
Buy the DVD of Dead Man here.
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