Reservation Reelism: Redfacing, Visual Sovereignty, and Representations of Native Americans in Film

By Michelle H. Raheja | Go to book overview

2
Ideologies of (In)Visibility
Redfacing, Gender, and Moving Images

Historically, motion picture companies have hired fewer Native American female actors than their male counterparts. Because the politics of representation in films with American Indian plots and subplots privilege the frontier as an imagined site where Native American warriors must be conquered, secured, and surveilled, especially in westerns, male characters have been more visible. Silent film, in particular, supported Frederick Jackson Turner’s privileging of the frontier as the primary lens through which to view North American history, allowing spectators to render genocide natural and inevitable, even as this era in cinematic history witnessed a record number of films with Native American storylines, some of which feature sympathetic portrayals of Indigenous people.1 “If Turner’s thesis was a blueprint for a compelling shape for American identity,” Paula Marantz Cohen argues, “silent film was the form of its realization. The oscillation between the civilized and the primitive could find conceptual correlatives in the still and the mobile shot … which

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