For Turner Classic Movie viewers, the Atlanta-based cable channel’s
annual “Race and Hollywood” film festival provides an engrossing,
educational experience unlike anything else on television each spring.
Over the past five years, TCM host Robert Osborne and scholarly
guests have provided fascinating insights into how African-Americans,
Asians, Latinos and gays and lesbians have been portrayed through the
decades on the silver screen.
On each Tuesday and Thursday night this May, TCM continues the tradition
with an examination of Native Americans in Hollywood featuring Osborne,
UCLA American Indian Studies Center director Hanay Geiogamah and 29
films ranging from 1914’s silent film “The Squaw Man” to Kevin
Costner‘s “Dances With Wolves” from 1990.
In an exclusive for Intel readers, we were invited to the TCM set
Tuesday to observe as Osborne and Geiogamah taped the segments for the
Introducing director Arthur Penn‘s 1970 classic “Little Big Man”
starring Dustin Hoffman, Osborne asked Geiogamah about screenplay
writer Calder Willingham‘s Indian dialogue.
“He got the humor and the wit but he didn’t capture how they speak,”
conceded Geiogamah. “All of that flowery ‘Man soar with wings of eagle’
poetic imagery is not accurate. But the film remains one of the first
truthful depictions of Indian life.”
Between takes, Geiogamah told us he was thrilled to not only get the
call to co-host the festival but to also select the films for it.
“It’s a daunting task but one that I’m enjoying very much,” Geiogamah
said. “To have an entire month to provide insights and to chart the
progression of images of Native Americans in film is a tremendous
opportunity to educate.”
As with past TCM “Race and Hollywood” festivals, some of the films were
picked specifically for their cringe-worthy depictions.
“I will never pop [1940’s] ‘Northwest Passage’ into my DVD player
again,” Geiogamah told us. “The ick factor is just to the max. The level
of Indian hatred depicted in it is unsettling. ‘The Far Horizons’ [from
1955] stars Donna Reed as Sacajawea wearing buckskin couture is
just beyond unreal!”
But Geiogamah says he’s thrilled to have films like “One Flew Over the
Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Incident at Oglala” on the schedule.
Added Osborne to Intel: “This annual Race and Hollywood festival is so
important. It makes more people aware of how racism was sustained while
Hollywood was feeding the audience these images. For so many years,
white actors had to play Native American roles in films simply because
there were no opportunities for Native Americans to become actors.”