After World War II, Hollywood’s portrayals of Native Americans as barbarians hindering Manifest Destiny began to fade. Apache (1954) and Broken Arrow(1950) laid the groundwork for Cheyenne Autumn (1964) and other Native American-themed films. Here’s a list of additional films with similar themes.
1. Little Big Man (1970)
A new viewpoint on the Plains Indians emerges through the prism of the film adaptation of Thomas Berger’s novel, which stars Dustin Hoffman as 17-year-old Jack Crabb. After being raised by Cheyennes and marrying one, white orphan Crabb learns of her husband’s death at the hands of Custer’s 7th Cavalry. Scouting for the Cheyenne and Sioux at the Battle of Little Big Horn, he witnessed the Cheyenne and Sioux take retribution for Custer’s death. Little Big Man shows how prejudice can be flipped on its head by recounting the story through the perspective of a white captive.
2. Billy Jack (1971)
As the father of Hapkido’s martial art, Billy Jack has a Navajo protagonist and fights planned by him. Director and co-writer Tom Laughlin portrays Billy, a former Green Beret and Vietnam veteran who now battles for the rights of other Native Americans. It was a hit with teenagers and hippies alike because of its action sequences and anti-establishment attitude. A re-release in 1973 increased its appeal, making it a cult classic. People remember the famous courthouse fight and the phrase, “I’m going to take this right foot, and I’m going to thump you on that side of your face.”
3. Windwalker (1980)
When it comes to this “tale of Indians without a single cowboy,” Trevor Howard’s Cheyenne warrior is the star. To achieve a peaceful afterlife, Windwalker is resurrected from his resting place by the Great Spirit at the end of the story. The majority of the film is spoken in the Cheyenne and Crow languages, with the exception of voiceover commentary. Although Windwalker was released in a small number of theaters, it quickly gained a cult following because to word-of-mouth referrals.
4. Powwow Highway (1989)
Jonathan Wacks’ raucous road movie features Buddy Red Bow (A Martinez) and social commentary on Native American land rights in the form of Buddy Red Bow’s pranks. A new perspective on the customary relationship between Cheyenne and white explorers shows that Manifest Destiny has not yet been exhausted. Comedy, pot swaps, and even “bromances” are featured in the plot, which isn’t all that serious. Filmmaker’s Trophy and three Native American Film Festival Awards went to Powwow Highway.
5. Dances With Wolves (1990)
The Best Picture Oscar went to Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves, a film about Native Americans. When Costner, a former Union Army lieutenant, heads west after his Civil War heroics, he makes friends with the Sioux and falls in love with their culture, but the Army eventually ends his stay with them. Pawnee or Lakota dialects are used for much of the film’s dialogues, which are subtitled in English. There is a lot of positive sentiment for the picture in the Indian community,’ the festival’s director said. It’s going to be difficult to top this one, in my opinion. Indeed, no other Native American film has acquired the same level of fame or popularity.
6. Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)
When Wes Studi was captured in 1886, Walter Hill’s film focuses on the circumstances leading up to it, but also subtly examines modern Native American social integration issues. This overlooked film depicts a few troops that demonstrate respect and empathy towards the Apache, unlike typical depictions of Native Americans and the US military. It was praised by Native American organisations for highlighting their people’s most serious concerns to a global audience.
7. Smoke Signals (1998)
The debut feature of Cheyenne-Arapaho director Chris Eyre was the first by a Native American director. It’s a story of self-discovery adapted from one of Sherman Alexie’s stories. During a road journey, Victor and Thomas, who live on the Coeur d’Alene reservation in Idaho, work through their tangled past. Arnold (Adam Beach) is a man Victor (Adam Beach) both loves and despises (Gary Farmer). As a result of Arnold’s heroic rescue of Thomas (Evan Adams), Thomas regards Arnold as a hero. Both the Sundance Filmmaker’s Trophy and the Audience Award were presented to the picture, which also took home the Best Film award at the Native American Film Festival.
8. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)
For the first time, a film was made entirely in Inuktitut: Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat was a pioneering adventure narrative about a cursed Inuit community, sexual revenge, and warrior endurance. It was based on a narrative that is at least five centuries old, and it was meticulously studied. To better express the message of optimism to the audience, changes were made to the original tale’s ending. It is one of the best depictions of Native American folklore that has ever been made on film.
9. Skins (2002)
“Skins,” a film adaptation of Adrian C. Louis’ best-selling novel, follows the story of two brothers, Rudy (Eric Schweig) and Mogie (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) (Graham Greene). Rudy, a native of the South Dakota reservation where he witnessed widespread unemployment, alcoholism, and poverty, protests against the exploitation of his people, especially his brother. Filming for the movie took place on Pine Ridge Reservation, one of America’s most impoverished areas. Eyre indicated that all of the film’s events were based on real-life experiences. Each and every scene was shot in a real-world setting to illustrate the harsh reality of life in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
10. Imprint (2007)
By Chris Eyre and Michael Linn, Imprint is an exploration of Native American spirituality. It’s all about valuing one’s heritage, regardless of the presence of supernatural components. Shayla Stonefeather is a lawyer who has made a point of denying her heritage as Native American. After years away, she returns to her dying father’s home for the first time in years and is challenged by spirits who force her to re-evaluate her relationship with her ancestral culture and spirituality. Imprint provides a glimpse into the life of Native Americans today, while also highlighting the tenacity of their cultural practices.