Blog 4 – Native America Film

I love hollywood films. There, said it. Bam. Yea, I find them incredibly entertaining and when they do discuss deeper topics they tend to use subtleties and, more recently, post modern ideas to creatively discuss topics such as race, gender, and sexuality. Topics that, gonna say it, lead to incredibly generic discussions. (They really do. Want to find them? Head over to UpWorthy or Buzzfeed, 10 bucks says you’ll find every ‘debate’ and answer ever discussed about these topics.) But what American Hollywood films have always been so great at doing is getting beyond the simple answers of these topics and going straight to heart/soul of the people involved, even the philosophy of why humans do these things to each other and how we could stop it (X-men, bitches!) Apologies for my agitation towards this subject, but whenever a University coarse begins a discussion on these topics and the discussion – basically speaking – concludes with, “We’re all the same, let’s love each other that way, okay!? :D” I can’t help but say, “yea, I know. Pretty sure everyone knows this. Why are we discussing this? This isn’t a discussion, you’re preaching to the choir. Tell us something new!”

So when we came to the discussion on Native Americans portrayal in cinema, I knew EXACTLY where this was going, for the very same reason as above, it’s a generic conversation topic that leads people who feel ‘guilty’ for their ancestors to help whipe that guilt and feel better about themselves, then pat each other on the back, apologize to eachother, and then go do something ‘good’ and call themselves good people. No, that doesn’t make you a good person, because guilt shouldn’t be the vehicle for doing Good in the world. Doing Good is something people with even small traces of humanity do for no reason whatsoever, just because they bloody well want to. Films like Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Samson and Delilah led to these kinds of discussions and if one noticed, the only people ‘discussing’ in class where the well-raised white folks, discussing their guilt towards history and how shitty the reserves were – yea, man, we learned that in grade 5. We’re supposed to be discussing how these films fought the stereotypical images of Western film. I’ll admit, these two films definitely didn’t show the stereotypical Aboriginal side we’re used to, but their messages were pretty obvious and, honestly, their characterization was incredibly shallow – yup, said it, Samson and Delilah were robots, Delilah maybe a little less so, but call the film, Chappie and Eve (ß from Wall-E) and it’d be the same film.

Now, Smoke Signals, that’s how you battle stereotypes!! Use them to your advantage through humour, then flip them with characters that go truly development through personal struggles. Characters whose personas evolve without loosing sight of who they are; who we can see ourselves hanging out with or we could picture on the street. Not only did Smoke Signals make us care about the individual characters, but we also cared about the reserve they lived on and each individual person who lived in that reserve. We got the see the hardships these people went through, but never once made them out to be killing machines or soulless robot kids. We saw Victor’s idea of what it meant to be an ‘Indian’, which actually felt more “Hollywood” than Thomas’ idea vs Thomas, who’s look and attitude was inspired by the people – the culture – that raised him. What makes Smoke Signals so great is it speaks the idea that Cultural identity isn’t defined by it’s archetypes, but the people who grow the communities and traditions within it – Thomas, the girls driving the car, the radio man, and Susan are the perfect example of this. As humans, Thomas was raised to care, love respect. His heart is ingrained in the community – even a bit too much at times, often stepping over personal boundaries, “Heeey Victor! Why’d your dad leave?” Victor, on the other hand, has found life in the “lone wolf” persona, finding peace only in himself and at times his mother. It’s not rocket science to know that the reserves are poor places to live or that colonization was an incredibly dark thing that occurred. We are taught – should be taught – these things in elementary and high school. We shouldn’t be learning it or even discussing it in University, it belittles ourselves and the establishment where we have come experience higher learning. Smoke Signals is that higher learning. A film, where we can take these stereotypes we already know to be wrong and play with them through humour, whilst showing us the people behind the masks and the true definition of a people of culture. Ironic, Smoke Signals was the most Hollywood film of the bunch, yet it did the best job at proving the points this blog assignment entailed.

PS: So, are we going to look at Screen Acting at all or is this THEATRE class, going to turn into exactly all those other non-major film classes York has to offer. I’ve taken those film classes and yep, so far, totally the same… When is Michael Greyeyes coming back?

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