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Reviewed by:
  • Wiping the War Paint off the Lens: Native American Film and Video, and: American Cowboys
  • J. Diane Pearson (bio)
Wiping the War Paint off the Lens: Native American Film and Video by Beverly R. SingerUniversity of Minnesota Press, 2001
American Cowboys produced by Cedric Wildbill and Tanis WildbillVision Maker Video, 1998

Celluloid sovereignty and visual images of American Indians moving away from the pervasive stereotypical Hollywood "Indian" are the subject of Singer's Wiping the War Paint off theLens and the Wildbills' documentary, American Cowboys. Singer concentrates on American Indian actors, directors, producers, films, documentaries, and videos while extending the dialogue beyond dominant Euro-American paradigms. American Cowboys, produced from silent-film and photographic archives, features Jackson Sundown (Nez Perce) and George Fletcher (African-American), rodeo champions of the early twentieth century. Singer analyzes celluloid history, while the Wildbills use archival films and photographs to mark how celluloid history may expand limits imposed by stereotypical images of people of color. Singer's book is a serious addition to the literature of the Native American film genre, and American Indians is twenty-six minutes of new celluloid history.

Singer focuses on American Indian film and video genres and their histories from a Native American point of view. She highlights contemporary Native American ideas of identity, addresses commodification [End Page 199] and dehumanization of Native people in films, and summarizes Hollywood genres and the various eras of the Hollywood "Indian." She discusses political eras affecting American Indian filmmakers and their attempts to participate beyond dominant Hollywood images—as filmmakers, actors, producers, directors, and film writers. Though Singer's analysis is not exhaustive, it is comprehensive. The strength of Singer's work resides in her wide-ranging reviews of individuals, titles, productions, television documentaries, and important programs and institutions that have supported Native American, Alaska Native, and Canadian First Nations filmmakers since 1966. Singer focuses on nineteen key American Indians and reviews their films or videos, discussing in depth six significant American Indian films and videos and highlighting Native American points of view, cultural settings, and experiences that are outside the Hollywood "Indian" paradigm. Wiping the War Paint off the Lens is an excellent starting point for students of American Indian films and videos.

Archival films and photographs, ethnohistories, and interviews bring the excitement and athleticism of two great rodeo-athletes to American Cowboys. Saddle broncs, like the high-flying Angel and the twisting, sunfishing Wiggles, mark the spiritual and athletic connections between men and horses: the weyekin (spirit guardian) that unites spirit and body. Fletcher reportedly found his weyekin on the Umatilla reservation, while Sundown's weyekin was an integral part of his Nez Perce heritage. Sundown's weyekin was the horsefly; he clung to a horse's back in almost every condition, at times almost ghostlike in his weightlessness.

Film clips bring to life George Fletcher riding a bucking buffalo, a common event at early rodeos, in a rodeo arena that was dangerously crowded with nonparticipants and horses. Sundown's bucking horse collided with an arena judge and horse in midair, costing the Nez Perce a win two years before he won the Pendleton championship in 1916. The next year, Sundown made another great ride, but racism prevailed, and rodeo judges awarded the championship to a white cowboy who had touched his saddle with his free arm when his horse bucked through arena fences. The year 1916 was a different story for the fifty-three-year-old Sundown. After his qualifying rides and a final ride, which could last as long as the judge wanted a cowboy to ride, racist attitudes did not prevail. Sundown saddled his own bronc, stepped into the stirrups, settled, told the handlers to "Turn him loose," and rode to "win orlose it all... his sombrero waving in the air." Winning the hearts of thirty thousand people, who threatened to pull down the grandstand unless "justice" was done, Jackson Sundown rode into the history books as the Pendleton Roundup saddle bronc champion. In interviews, old cowboys recalled that Sundown's ride was the best saddle bronc ride they had ever seen. [End Page 200]

American Cowboys is complete with film vignettes of Umatilla and Nez...


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pp. 199-201
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