Reel Injun is a critically acclaimed Documentary directed by Neil Diamond. It was released in 2011 and won three Gemini awards.
Reel Injun is directed from Neil’s point of view. His view being that for the most part Native American people or Indians have not been properly recognised in American film. He gets his point across primarily by showing archival footage and interviewing various actors and Native people. This film really opened my eyes to the misrepresentation of Natives in cinema. Two extremes of Native representation shown in the documentary would be the 1939 film Stagecoach directed by John Ford and the 2001 film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner which was written, directed and acted completely in Inuktitut. Stagecoach is a classic western film starring John Wayne and Claire Trevor. It is the type of western that glorifies the cowboy and portrays the natives as savages. At one point Reel Injun shows some footage of John Wayne smashing a dead Indian in the head with a rock and then shooting the corpse. I’m sure if I was immersed in the film and oblivious to the connotations of the scene I wouldn’t have batted an eye, but Reel Injun puts that scene and many like it into perspective. Stagecoach was after all made by and made for middle America of the 1930’s. Mostly every film in that era was marketed towards white people, so it was common to have the white cowboy hero slaying ”savages”. It was also a very politically incorrect time and unfortunately I don’t think John Ford had any incentive to portray Native Americans properly. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner has a much different depiction of Native Americans. The Fast Runner is a film written and acted in the Inuit language Inuktitut. In Reel Injun, native director Chris Eyre praises its authenticity and says it’s the most Native film ever made. Based on the footage shown in the film, The Fast Runner almost looks like a documentary for National Geographic.
Overall I believe that Neil Diamond’s goal was to bring Native awareness up and break the stereotypical view of Natives brought on by Hollywood. He certainly enlightened me to these issues but Hollywood is another story. In the recent film The Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp plays a very typically Hollywood Indian, so it looks like nothing has really changed. On a good note Canadian cinema seems to really understand Neil’s point of view and if films like Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner continue to be made maybe the point will get across to Hollywood.