Saturday, January 15, 2011


In honor of the upcoming MLK holiday, the National Museum of the American Indian in DC held a day long celebration of African-American Indian cultures.  Yes, they exist.  In fact, most Native American cultures on the East Coast have gradually blended with African American populations over time.  Many slaves could secure the freedom of their children by marrying Indian brides.  In addition to checking out some great Garifuna music and stopping in for a quick bite to eat at the Mitsitam Cafeteria, host to a diverse sample of Indian cuisine from various regions of the Americas (alone, well worth the visit), I also got a chance to see the documentary "Reel Injun".

The film traces the trajectories and thematic consequences inherit to the portrayal of Native cultures throughout the history of film.  Enlightening, funny and moving, I highly recommend it.  Oddly, the documentary left out a seminal masterpiece with a queer bent: "The Business of Fancydancing".  This film explores the tension between two friends who grew up on the Spokane Reservation, one of whom is gay and must deal with the inevitable complications of a queer sexuality and Indian identity.  While gay author and director Sherman Alexie's other ground-breaking film "Smoke Signals" is heavily profiled in "Reel Injun", "Fancydancing" gets a snub.  Odd.

Also definitely see "Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner", a masterpiece of modern film-making as well as a landmark film for aboriginal cinema the world-over-- written, directed, and acted entirely in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit people of Canada.  While deservedly praiseworthy of "Atanarjuat", "Reel Injun" neglects to cite the 1974 classic "Chac: The Rain God", shot entirely in Tzeltal and other Mayan dialects, a film that depicts legends from the Popol Vu (and yet another Bigshoe recommendation). 

One last fun fact gleaned from "Reel Injun": Iron Eyes Cody (a childhood hero of mine and star of the famous 70's anti-litter campaign and 80s hit "Ernest Goes to Camp") wasn't Indian at all.  He was a Sicilian from Louisiana!  My father had the chance to sit with Cody on a plane when I was 7.  I got a hurried call from my dad telling me to meet him at the airport where I had a chance to shake Cody's hand.  Despite a recent stroke that left him wheelchair bound, he autographed my copy of the "Guide to Indian Sign Language".  Ole' Iron Eyes modeled different hand gestures in the book.  Crazy!

"Reel Injun"

"The Business of Fancydancing"


  1. I was waiting for this documentary to play in DC and I can't believe I missed it! Sounds like a great piece. Thanks for our review of it and your visit to the museum!

  2. Ted and I watched 'Reel Injun' a couple of weeks ago. It was outstanding. Such an important film. The book I'm working on right now explores a Paiute tribe in Utah who were extras on a John Wayne film in 1954--they played Mongolian Warriors to his Genghis Kahn (!!).

    Reel Injun should be played in every high school in the country (ok, i'm kind of biased, because I also think Adam Beach is a hunka hunka).

  3. Holy damn, you keep showing up places I almost get to. Had to stay home and write course plan stuff.