Reel Injun Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge & Jeremiah Hayes

Reel Injun Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge & Jeremiah Hayes
Ever since the Lumiere Brothers filmed blackface minstrels in 1896, the history of cinema has been chock full of racism, misrepresentations and inappropriately amusing facets of a constantly evolving culture. No doubt, films like Birth of a Nation, Broken Blossoms, Gone with the Wind and even Breakfast at Tiffany's frequently come up when critics and historians discuss racial depiction in film, conjuring up images of Mickey Rooney in yellow-face or the KKK as the saving grace for the American South. Reel Injun provides a detailed history of Native representation in film, featuring interviews with filmmakers, critics, historians and Native activists, along with a variety of relevant film clips. Acknowledging the symbol of the Indian as a brave, stoic mystery man of the land, traditionally, this documentary covers the topic in a linear fashion, from silent film to Flags of our Fathers. Of particular note are discussions about the works of John Ford, noting that Stagecoach may have single-handedly denigrated the Native image in the late '30s, following this up with a shout out to the myopic bigotry in The Searchers. Initially, these anecdotes and analyses provide some unique, contextually relevant insights, but as the doc progresses it loses focus. A great deal of time is spent discussing Iron Eyes Cody ― known to many as the environmental crying Indian; he was actually an Italian man named Espera di Corti that lived his life pretending to be Indian. Marlon Brando's famed Oscar speech by Sasheen Littlefeather is covered, as is the advent of Dances with Wolves as a movie where a white man had to teach Indians how to fight. By this point, the reduction of Native identity to that of sense of humour and good spirit strains the connective themes, as does the awkward framing device of a man travelling to Hollywood in a Rez car to discover the meaning of his ancestry in film. Once he gets there, he interviews Adam Beach for a minute then heads home to talk about Canadian Inuit movies. While sloppy and increasingly desultory, Reel Injun accomplishes its goals, identifying stereotypes in relation to cultural temperature, shedding some light on roles most people haven't given a great deal of thought towards. Unfortunately, no supplements are included with the DVD. (Mongrel Media)