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

By Michelle H. Raheja | Go to book overview

5
Visual Sovereignty, Indigenous
Revisions of Ethnography, and
Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)

In an early scene from Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922), Allakariallak, the Inuit actor who portrays the titular hunter in the film, is introduced to a gramophone by a white trader who, according to the intertitles, “attempts to explain the principle of the gramophone” to him.1 Having never before seen such a device, the putatively naïve Nanook inspects all sides of the machine, touches it, laughs at it, seems to ask the trader about its operation, and subsequently bites the record in a haptic effort to understand this new technology. In this well-known scene, the viewer takes these on-screen actions as a cue that Nanook is both unfamiliar with Western technology (and therefore oblivious to the camera’s gaze in recording his actions) and primitive (only a culturally simple person would respond to advances in sound technology — especially in the silent era — with levity). Yet while a non-Inuit audience might register Nanook’s smile as a marker of his alterity and childlike nature, Fatimah Tobing Rony asserts, “Recent research has shown that the Inuit found Flaherty and

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