Advertise:   712.224.5420

Tim Giago: Few roles for Indians in Hollywood

Posted by request of Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji. � 2006 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.

Oh, Hollywood, that beautiful place where dreams are made and dreams are dashed.

I need not go into the horrific, erroneous, hideous, nonsensical and racist movies about Native Americans that have sprouted in this magic kingdom and left such an onerous stench across Indian country because they have been enumerated countless times amongst the Indian people themselves.

We are all products of our times. Jay Silver Heels, the infamous Tonto of the Lone Ranger films, fought to make changes in the movie industry at a time when Indians were considered no more important than ornaments that decorate the movie set. He went along to get along and his �pidgin English� pronunciations to the �Masked Crusader� soon became synonymous with all Indians. �Me makeum smoke signals to Great White Father, Ugh� was the kind of language any aspiring Indian actor had to master before he could be cast in the early Grade �B� Westerns. White kids playing Indians in the perennial game of Cowboys and Indians were soon spouting this �Tontonese� with expert clarity. In the 1930s and 1940s, Indian children attending classes at the Indian boarding schools went so far as to emulate the linguistics of Mr. Silver Heels. Even in the movie Key Largo, a movie in which Silver Heels plays the part of a Seminole Indian, he continues to speak in his �pidgin English� voice.

I spoke with Silver Heels many years ago at an awards banquet in Los Angeles and I was not surprised to hear him say that he was always very, very uncomfortable speaking as he did and he wished he had been more assertive to the many white directors who expected him to speak like an unaccomplished idiot. �But this is the way it was back then and I think I allowed myself to be manipulated because I was one of the few Indians actually playing the part of an Indian and I really hoped that by going along I would be able to open the door for other Indian actors,� he said.

The Indian people are truly the invisible people in the movies and in the many television sit-coms. You tell me when you last saw an Indian in an everyday situation in a sit-com? I know that the television series Northern Exposure featured Elaine Miles, Umatilla, as Marilyn Whirlwind in a recurring role, but that series was an exception to the rule.

Movie opportunities are rare indeed for Indian actors and actresses. It is probably more so for Indian women because in the early days of motion pictures whites portrayed most Indian women. Of course, Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse opposite Errol Flynn as George Armstrong Custer in �They Died with Their Boots on� is also an example of non-Indians taking on the roles of strong Indian males.

Graham Greene is probably one of the best-known Indian actors and yet even he chose to take on a role that was demeaning. A movie based on the book �The Education of Little Tree� written by Forrest Carter, a white man claiming to be an Indian, and worse yet, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, placed Greene in the uncomfortable position of playing a role that should have been left in the hands of a white man playing an Indian. As a matter of fact, based on the lies that created the book, it was a movie that should not have been made at all.

Carter, the author, was a segregationist writer for the racist Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, and the leader of a Ku Klux Klan branch that preached hate against blacks and Jews. Amy Kallio Bollman said of his book, �It is not autobiographical � at least not as we conventionally utilize that term. While the aesthetic value of the book is arguable, it contains messages which are thinly veiled pro-white supremacist and which are perhaps unintentionally anti-Native American.�

American Indian film director Chris Eyre has made a supreme effort to bring movies with Indians as main characters into the mainstream, but the lack of good scripts and a high wall to climb within the movie industry have shackled him. He is young and he will, in my estimation; knock down the wall standing in his path.

As Indians we have to move past stereotypical movies like �Black Cloud� with Eddie Spears and Russell Means. As a matter of record, for an activist Means played the only role worth mentioning in the movie. It�s like when you see any really bad movie, but even in the badness, you find one actor of worth. Means filled that role in Black Cloud.

If there is an Indian star on the horizon it has to be Adam Beach. I am sure that he is at times uncomfortable about the roles he has to take on as an Indian actor. Even in his dramatic role as Ira Hayes in Clint Eastwood�s �Flags of Our Fathers,� Beach had to further dramatize the image of a stereotypical drunken Indian.

I am hopeful that those past Indian actors like Jay Silver Heels and Eddie Little Sky will someday be honored for the pain they had to endure while trying to make their mark in Hollywood. They did open the doors for real Indians with their sacrifice.

(McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago�s weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or at Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM ( published his latest book, �Children Left Behind�)

More Tim Giago:
Tim Giago: Freedom of the press has a chance (10/31)
Tim Giago: Important election day for South Dakota (10/24)
Tim Giago: White media ignores Indian contributions (10/17)
Tim Giago: Termination a dirty word in Indian Country (10/10)
Giago: Domestic violence from a male perspective (10/3)
Tim Giago: Culturecide started with innocent children (09/19)
Tim Giago: Indian people mark 500 years of terrorism (9/11)
Tim Giago: Lawsuit challenges church on abuse (9/6)
Tim Giago: Day of reckoning for Oglala Sioux Tribe (8/29)
Tim Giago: Tribes giving up their sovereignty (08/08)
Giago retires as editor and publisher of magazine (8/4)
Tim Giago: States looking for ways to take from tribes (8/1)
Tim Giago: Religion invaded Native America (7/25)
Tim Giago: Daily screw ups in tribal governance (7/18)
Tim Giago: Happy Birthday to Van Cliburn and me (7/11)
Tim Giago: South Dakota tilting further to the right (7/3)
Tim Giago: Americans still the invaders in Iraq (6/27)
Tim Giago: Tribal colleges in Bill Gates' backyard (6/21)
Tim Giago: Gaming brings new wealth, new problems (6/13)
Tim Giago: 'Oz' author called for genocide of the Lakota (6/6)
Tim Giago: Too much uncertainty in gaming (5/30)
Tim Giago: Deny gaming to newly recognized tribes (5/23)
Tim Giago: Congratulations to the class of '06 (5/16)
Tim Giago: Rich tribes should help poorer tribes (5/9)
Tim Giago: Fighting substance abuse at Pine Ridge (5/2)
Tim Giago: Censorship in the mainstream media (4/25)
Tim Giago: Brainwashing on Pine Ridge Reservation (4/18)
Tim Giago: The growing pains of tribal sovereignty (4/11)
Tim Giago: Indians most affected by immigration (4/4)
Tim Giago: Little attention for Native American Day (3/28)
Giago: Oglala Sioux president on state abortion law (3/21)
Tim Giago: The road to true tribal sovereignty (3/14)
Tim Giago: The basketball miracle of 1936 (3/7)
Giago: Real problem in South Dakota is race relations (2/21)
Tim Giago: Yes, Virginia, Indians do pay taxes (2/14)
Tim Giago: Gas-guzzlers, Indian cars and the Big Three (2/7)
Tim Giago: Lions, Tiger, Bears and Indian mascots (1/31)
Tim Giago: Christians and Muslims still at war (1/24)
Tim Giago: Bush started Iraqi war over 'dark lie' (1/17)
Tim Giago: Fire Thunder out of limbo after 66 days (1/10)
Tim Giago: The Olympics of Indian basketball (12/20)
Tim Giago: BIA schools turned abused into abusers (12/13)
Tim Giago: Fire Thunder shakes up establishment (12/6)
Tim Giago: Della Warrior steps down from IAIA (11/29)
Tim Giago: Deloria gave Indian people a voice (11/22)
Tim Giago: Indians never forced religion on others (11/15)
Tim Giago: Exposing false medicine men (11/8)
Tim Giago: Government ignores Indian health problems (11/1)
Tim Giago: Indian newspapers revise history (10/25)
Tim Giago: Two friends make journey to spirit world (10/18)
Tim Giago: Politicians need to know Indian law (10/11)
Tim Giago: Doors opening to Indians in South Dakota (10/4)
Tim Giago: 'Indian' myths and misconceptions (9/27)
Tim Giago: Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina (9/20)
Tim Giago: NCAA loses its spine on mascot policy (9/13)
Tim Giago: The Indian 'scandal sheet' phenomenon (08/30)
Tim Giago: Indians became refugees in own land (8/23)
Tim Giago: Censor tribes for supporting mascots (8/17)
Tim Giago: New addiction takes over in Indian Country (08/02)
Tim Giago: Tribes trade sovereignty for dollars (7/26)
Giago: Seminole Tribe wrong on Indian mascots (7/19)
Giago: Underground Railroad to escape boarding school (7/12)
Giago: Skeletons hidden in Rapid City's closet (07/07)
Tim Giago: Air Force base not a blessing to Lakotas (6/30)
Tim Giago: Tribes to claim downsized military bases (06/07)
Tim Giago: First revolutionary was a Native man (5/31)
Tim Giago: Many 'wannabe' tribes seek recognition (05/17)
Tim Giago: South Dakota press censors Indian writers (05/10)
Tim Giago: White lawyers growing fat off tribes (04/26)
Tim Giago: Gay marriage debate killed Democrats (4/19)
Tim Giago: It's time for wealthy tribes to think Indian (04/05)
Tim Giago: Wealthy tribes don't need federal funds (03/31)
Tim Giago: Gaming leads to addiction, crime (03/22)
Tim Giago: Discrimination in the media and advertising (03/08)
Tim Giago: Black Hills land theft a dishonest deal (03/01)
Tim Giago: Committing slow suicide with foods (02/15)
Tim Giago: Bush probably still against Indian gaming (01/25)
Tim Giago: Calvary re-enactors should know better (01/18)
Tim Giago: Racism continues in South Dakota (11/30)
Tim Giago: Should we listen to Osama bin Laden? (11/23)
Tim Giago: GOP moral values will hurt Indian Country (11/09)
Tim Giago: Indian reformists stamped out tribes (11/02)
Tim Giago: I'm not a racist and I haven't seen NMAI yet (09/29)
Tim Giago: Eastern tribes are African-American (09/15)
Tim Giago: Indians have cause to fear Republicans (07/21)
Tim Giago: Casinos create culture of 'us' and 'them' (06/30)
Tim Giago: Boarding schools cause of many ills (06/14)
Tim Giago: 'Real' Indians don't fight over money (04/05)
Tim Giago now plans to run for Senate as independent (03/31)
Tim Giago: Indians pay no taxes, and other myths (01/26)
Giago: Indian gaming erodes tribal sovereignty (01/07)
Giago: Gays were highly respected by Sioux Nation (09/22)
Tim Giago: I'm a fully recovered Catholic (09/11)
Giago: State should refund tax money first (08/06)
Giago: Oprah show changed minds on Indian mascots (07/31)