American Indian movies have always been produced to make the viewer understand the pre- and post-assimilated era especially that which existed during Western frontier. In this regard, such films as Dances with Wolves have become the best sellers. This is due to their content especially in as far as the lives of the Native Americans are concerned. In particular, this film displays the white people, the Indians, the women, and the soldiers in an interactive manner that needs to be explored. It therefore forms the basis for this essay in providing feelings on how such people are portrayed in this film.
The American Indian film Dances with Wolves directed and produced by Kevin Costner is about the story of a Union Army lieutenant and a civil war soldier, Dunbar, who requests for a transfer to the western frontier. On travelling to America, Dunbar finds a military post where he befriends the nearby Sioux Indians. He thereby slowly becomes accepted into their culture. However, when the army returns, Dunbar finds himself in a dilemma between two worlds from which he must choose and decide where his allegiance lies. In essence, this film portrays the white people, the Indians, the women, and the soldiers in different ways. It is in this regard that this essay provides my ideas on the portrayal of the white people, the Indians, the soldiers, as well as women in different perspectives.
I do not believe that the portrayal of the white people as ignorant and unfeeling by the film, Dances with Wolves, is justified. The fact that this film is all about mistreatment of the most sensitive people, the Native Americans, by early white settlers and cavalry justifies this point. Dunbar knows that the only way of understanding other cultures, especially Indian cultures, is by seeing the Western frontier before it ends. It was therefore a tale of conquest that did not necessary mean that the white people were ignorant. This is evident in the manner in which Dunbar, while being assimilated into Indian culture, builds a rapport with members of that society.
Dunbar knows that the only way of responding to intimidation from Sioux neighbors was not to use force, but rather to establish rapport with them by dialoguing together. For instance, when Dunbar comes across an injured Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell) whose original family had been killed by aggressive Pawnee tribe, he takes her to her adopted family of Kicking Bird (Graham Greene), a medicine man (Costner, 1990). This in turn changes the way he is seen by the Sioux tribe thus making him to be accepted.
On the other hand, I think that the film’s portrayal of the Indians as brave, noble, and wise people was accurate. Throughout the film, the Indian tribe of Sioux is being threatened by the Pawnee tribe and the white people. In fact, this is the reason why Chief Ten Bears (Floyd Red Crow) decides to relocate and move the tribe to winter camp. The reason why I agree that the Indians are brave is because of their commitment to protect Dunbar who has helped them defend the village from the attack by rival Pawnee tribe. This is evident when Dunbar is captured by the US Army. They showed their brevity and nobility by attacking the US convoy killing its soldiers thereby freeing Dunbar. Consequently, when Dunbar at the first sight with Kicking Bird scares him off, he is confronted by an aggressive warrior Wind in His Hair who asserts that he is not scared of a white man. This is another indication of how brave the Indians are.
Noble savage is usually a common romanticized stereotyping that usually portrays an individual as ignorant and simple-minded but at the same time cannot be corrupted by any changes in morals as a result of modern civilization. In the film, Dances with Wolves, the Native Americans such as Indians are depicted as savage and wild in regards to technology. However, they are wiser and smarter when it comes to nature. Unlike in Union Army camps and the entire whites who depend on technology to help them treat the sick or enhance combat, the Indians are depicted as having more trust in medicine men such as Kicking Bird. More significantly, the wisdom of the Indians is even made clearer through them being able to discern that the migrating herds of buffalo can be used as a source of food, material, and clothing. Though Dunbar helps Indians in a number of ways, they are not corrupted into copying the ways in which the whites live. They rather make him to be assimilated more into their culture.
I also agree that the film, Dances with Wolves, portrays women as sexual and passionate. On his way to Sioux’s tribe camp, Dunbar meets Stands with a Fist, a white woman who had been captured while still a child but had now become a widow. Though Stands with a Fist has recently become a widow, she consummates in secret with Dunbar. This kind of relationship is forbidden especially bearing in mind that her husband had died a few days ago. It is this passion that allows Stands with a Fist to decide and leave the winter camp with Dunbar just because both did not want to endanger the welfare of the tribe as would have been the case if they would have decided to stay with Sioux tribe. However, I think that the film portrayal of women as sexual and passionate is essential in helping the viewer understand the role that women can play either in the traditional context or in the contemporary world.
Finally, I agree with film’s portrayal of soldiers as weak, coward, and cruel. It is this weakness and their being afraid of enduring the same pain that the soldiers who had amputated legs were undergoing that made Dunbar refuse from amputation. He instead attempts to commit suicide by riding a horse across a blaze of fire. Because of this coward act, Dunbar unfortunately rallied his comrades to storm distracted Confederates where they were able to win the battle. Similarly, the fact that Dunbar was seriously beaten and his wolf brutally injured by soldiers during interrogation, shows soldiers as indeed cruel. The film thus demonstrates the manner in which cruelty on the part of soldiers is being contributed by their weakness in responding to challenges that would help in their combat.
In conclusion, the film, Dances with Wolves, is of cultural, historical, and aesthetical significant. It therefore sets out a revitalized American Indian filmmaking that helps in understanding the threat that Native American tribes were undergoing. It is therefore imperative for film producers and directors to incorporate Kevin Costner’s way of film production that displays various characters in different ways. This way, they will enable their viewers to understand the characters and attitudes of the entire society.
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