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Reservation Reelism

Redfacing, Visual Sovereignty, and Representations of Native Americans in Film

Michelle H. Raheja

Publication Year: 2010

In this deeply engaging account Michelle H. Raheja offers the first book-length study of the Indigenous actors, directors, and spectators who helped shape Hollywood’s representation of Indigenous peoples. Since the era of silent films, Hollywood movies and visual culture generally have provided the primary representational field on which Indigenous images have been displayed to non-Native audiences. These films have been highly influential in shaping perceptions of Indigenous peoples as, for example, a dying race or as inherently unable or unwilling to adapt to change. However, films with Indigenous plots and subplots also signify at least some degree of Native presence in a culture that largely defines Native peoples as absent or separate. Native actors, directors, and spectators have had a part in creating these cinematic representations and have thus complicated the dominant, and usually negative, messages about Native peoples that films portray. In Reservation Reelism Raheja examines the history of these Native actors, directors, and spectators, reveals their contributions, and attempts to create positive representations in film that reflect the complex and vibrant experiences of Native peoples and communities.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vi-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Stemming from a long tradition of staged performances such as the Wild West shows that were themselves informed by American literature’s obsession with Native American plots and subplots, film and visual culture have provided the primary representational field on which Native American images have been displayed to dominant culture audiences in the twentieth...

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pp. xv-xviii

This book would not have been possible without the generosity, encouragement, good humor, and support of a legion of colleagues, friends, and family. I have been truly blessed to bring this project to completion under the guidance of such wonderful people and I am eternally grateful...

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1. Toward a Genealogy of Indigenous Film Theory: Reading Hollywood Indians

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pp. 1-45

On November 17, 1940, John del Valle wrote an article in the New York Herald Tribune announcing a petition to what would become the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for recognition of a Native American tribe to be named the “DeMille Indians” whose membership was based on professional affiliation rather than consanguinity...

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2. Ideologies of (In)Visibility: Redfacing, Gender, and Moving Images

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pp. 46-101

Historically, motion picture companies have hired fewer Native American female actors than their male counterparts. Because the politics of representation in films with American Indian plots and subplots privilege the frontier as an imagined site where Native American warriors must be conquered, secured, and surveilled, especially in westerns...

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3. Tears and Trash: Economies of Redfacing and the Ghostly Indian

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pp. 102-144

On January 4, 1999, Iron Eyes Cody died in his modest Silver Lake bungalow in Los Angeles at the age of ninety-four. A Wild West show recruiter, motion picture actor, stuntman, production crew member, and cultural consultant for almost eight decades, Cody began his career at the age of twelve and starred in hundreds...

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4. Prophesizing on the Virtual Reservation: Imprint and It Starts with a Whisper

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pp. 145-189

The Keep America Beautiful Inc. public service announcement featuring Iron Eyes Cody and other visual artifacts circulate the image of the ghostly Indian as a figment of an American imagination invested in Native Americans as spectral entities of a tragic and mostly elided past within a broader field of historical amnesia...

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5. Visual Sovereignty, Indigenous Revisions of Ethnography, and Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)

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pp. 190-220

In an early scene from Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922), Allakariallak, the Inuit actor who portrays the titular hunter in the film, is introduced to a gramophone by a white trader who, according to the intertitles, “attempts to explain the principle of the gramophone” to him.1 Having never before seen...

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6. Epilogue

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pp. 221-240

One week after I submitted the revisions of this manuscript to the press editor, I became intimately aware of the persistent, sometimes violent afterlife of redfacing and the importance of drawing attention to and critically engaging racist imagery. In November 2008 I learned that the public elementary school my daughter attended engages in a noncontinuous...


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pp. 241-290


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pp. 291-317


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pp. 319-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780803234451
E-ISBN-10: 0803234457
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803211261
Print-ISBN-10: 0803211260

Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 41 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010