Tonto and Tonto speak : an indigenous based film theory

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Although there are works on Indian stereotypes in Hollywood films, there has been no work critiquing these misrepresentations from an indigenous based perspective and theory. Moreover there is almost no significant work on films written, directed and produced by Native Americans. I fill this void by constructing a Native American film theory that addresses the issues raised in American Indian film from an Indian perspective. The main inspiration for this project stems from Native American literature. After reading Native American literary theory and taking a Native American literature class, I found many similarities between literature and film. However, unlike literature, Hollywood film is lacking in critique and discussion. One can find various sources that discuss issues raised by Indian film; however, no real theories have been developed by these projects, much less a critical film theory from an indigenous perspective. My methods are drawn from Native American literary theory. Craig Womack in his book Red on Red, creates an Indian literary theory from his own tribal stories and heritage. It is impossible for me to write a film theory focusing on a Wyandotte perspective simply due to the lack of Wyandotte films. I rely upon Creation Stories from several Indian tribes to illustrate elements of community, American Indian thought, Indian semiotics and history and politics as they relate to my theory. It might be noted that there has been a recent turn toward indigenous based theory in Native American studies; many of these theories are more pan-Indian, rather than tribally specific. However, none have addressed Native American identity issues in film. This study is designed to start a new dialogue within the field of Native American Studies as well as other disciplines such as film. Hollywood has silenced Indians for a long period of time. As shown by Native produced, directed and acted films, Indians are yearning to have their voices heard. This research acknowledges and applauds these individuals. This research being unique to the field will also inspire others to explore this topic and continue the discussion of the issues presented in the research.




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