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Depiction Of Native Americans In American Film

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Depiction of Native Americans in American Film

Stereotypes of different cultures have a large role in the opinions we hold. One culture which has endured stereotypes since America came to exist is the Native American. This analysis intends to look at the different stereotypes Native Americans have been branded with and how these stereotypes have been incorporated into American Film, in particular The Searchers.

The current stereotypes we hold of the Native Americans stem from the first encounters of Europeans with the indigenous people. These indigenous people were the first humans of a different race and ethnicity the Europeans had encountered. Since the ways of these native people were 'foreign' to the Europeans, it was decided the natives must be assimilated into the European, or white, culture. The Indians were viewed as primitive and hostile and in order to assimilate them, they were not allowed to hunt and were instead put on reservations to ironically learn about agriculture. These reservations however were often plots of land which were deemed unsuitable for agriculture and the Native Americans struggled with starvation. The stereotypes the Europeans created for these 'foreigners' disregarded the more than two thousand cultures and languages present among the different tribes.

In the movie The Searchers, the main character Ethan (John Wayne) sets out on a mission to rescue his niece Debbie from the Indians who kidnapped her and killed her family. His companion on this mission, Martin, a man who is one-eighth Cherokee, is the half-brother of Debbie. The two men endure a search that takes years and the companionship of many other westerners before they find Debbie. Throughout the movie the actions of each character depict the stereotypes of the Indians which we have sadly come to know.

Early films, such as The Searchers, quickly picked up on the stereotypes of the Native Americans and used them to create characters. The Indians were depicted as a barrier to western expansion and their elimination was a means of 'civilizing the continent'. This can clearly been seen in The Searchers within the first few minutes of the movie. As the movie opens, Ethan is riding home from a long journey to a house in the middle of the plains which is symbolic of the western expansion of white man. As the movie progresses, a group of male Indians attacks the home for no reason and kills the entire family except Debbie, whom they kidnap. This scene sets the mood for the rest of the movie since the audience now has a dislike for the Indians and has viewed their 'savageness'.

Often, the picturesque scenery and romantic lifestyles of the frontier were compared with the 'savages'. The Searchers portrays this through the relationship between Martin and Laurie and the relationship between Scar and Debbie. There is an obvious connection between Martin and Laurie from the letter Martin writes to Laurie when he is away. When Laurie reads the letter and finds it is about another woman, she panics. That shows the jealously of love. On the other hand, when Martin returns from his journey to find Laurie marrying Charlie, the mail carrier, he panics through the same emotion of jealousy. The relationship between Martin and Laurie is compared to the savage relationship between Scar, the chief of the Comanche tribe, and Debbie. Although very little of the communication between Debbie and Scar is actually viewed, when Martin and Ethan visit Scar, the impression is given that Debbie is kept in a corner of a teepee to string beads all day. This is of course not the



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