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Old 07-28-2005, 11:39 PM   #1
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This guys needs a good dressing down

Spielberg -- "Into the West" where all whites are racist killers


Warner Todd
Huston
Warner Todd Huston
July 28, 2005


Proclaimed as TNT network's "most ambitious original production," DreamWorks Television Productions has teamed with the network to present an epic tale of the American west which just concluded over the weekend of July 23rd. Executive producer Steven Spielberg hoped to show us what the building of the west was like in a 12 hour miniseries as big as the open ranges upon which the real stories played out.

According to the official web site: "INTO THE WEST follows two multi-generational families, one settlers and the other Native American, each telling the dramatic stories of the development of the West from their distinct points of view." Unfortunately, this claim did not translate to the screen. Instead, what we were given was a 12 hour movie entirely from the view point of the beleaguered Native Indian tribes (the Lakota Sioux in particular) and those apparently few whites who thought those Indians were the better example of humanity.

The series starts out with an intrepid young Eastern wanderer, a wheelwright, with stars in his eyes and adventure in his blood, gruffly abandoning his staid eastern family to head west to explore the great west with Jedediah Smith, one of the west's most famous mountain men. From there we see the intrepid wanderer begin his infatuation with the Indians to the point where, a few episodes later, he takes one as a wife.

The first few episodes portraying the mountain men era is so cursory as to slip by without much depth added to the characters. Further, we pass through the litany of guest stars so quickly as to wonder why they were even in the credits. Gary Bussey, for instance, plays a loud-mouthed mountain man that is killed after being in the show for only a short time, yet his face is featured in the credits for several episodes. Actress Keri Russell is treated in a similar fashion, though gets a little more screen time than Bussey. We follow her for two episodes and then her character just seems to vanish, never to be mentioned again for the rest of the film.

The treatment of the white settlers was lacking in variety. All we see of white people is avarice. We never get the feeling that a great nation was created by the efforts of the Americans, but that theft, greed and murder was their only accomplishment. Of course, the American Indians absolutely did get the short end of the deal as the American nation evolved, but so did every primitive culture all across the world in that era. The USA was not a lone perpetrator of atrocity or racism in the days of the Industrial Revolution to be sure.

The only white characters we are guided to appreciate during this story are the ones that love the Indians. We don't get a single example of a proud American who truly believes in the destiny of US ideals without ending up corrupted by money. We get no examples of religious people who truly believe their religion. We see nothing of the actual building of this country in the west. And we are not shown a single aspect of how the US government back in Washington dealt with the Indian questions.

Further more, the only historical references save one (the building of the Trans Continental railroad — and then it is just to show racism against the Chinese workers), are those that dealt directly with the various Indian wars. Both the war with Mexico and the Civil War are treated as entirely incidental to the narrative. No mention is made of the participation of the five civilized tribes in the Civil War, for instance on both sides of the war, U.S. and Confederate. Nor is there a mention of the opportunistic depredations against white farmers and homesteaders that many Indian tribes perpetrated in the west while the US army was otherwise occupied against the Southern Confederacy. This movie seemed to suggest that the Indians just sat around uninterested in the Civil War and the white man and were as peaceful as the day is long during the 5 years of our war fever in the east.

They could have mentioned that Lincoln hanged 38 Sioux men in Minnesota in 1862 over an uprising during the Civil War, for instance. But, this murky story would not have been as cut and dried as other white mistakes were. After all, the Sioux in Minnesota took advantage of the fact that the US army was away from the frontier and began systematically attacking wagon trains and isolated white families all across the area killing many before the US army put an end to the conflagration.

Of course, we are treated to all the massacres of Indians perpetrated by various American militias and Federal troops that can be crammed into the last 4 episodes with no back story as to why they happened at all. We are also treated to a full display of how all whites were racists against Indians. Of course, it goes without mention that many names the various tribes gave themselves translate into "the people" meaning only they were "people" while even other Indian tribes were of lesser stature. But to mention any hint of Indians being racist themselves would not fit with the Spielberg agenda, I suppose.

The movie presented so slanted a view of Native American history as to almost meld them all into one group, presenting a stilted view of the people and cultures that were as varied as any that exists in full flower today. Unfortunately, we are given but a hint of richness of the various Native American cultures themselves. The story tends to leave the viewer with the vague feeling that Indians were just Indians; a relatively racist viewpoint that one would imagine that such a project would want to dispel instead of encourage.

Therefore, the biggest problem with this effort is the portrayal of the Indians themselves. The real history of our Native Americans is rich with inter tribal war, faltering and fluctuating alliances, suspicion and hatreds of each other that goes back hundreds of years before the first European set foot upon the New World. But we get almost none of this point of view. We don't get to see that many Indians banded together WITH the Americans to strike blows at their own Indian enemies, nor do we see how those alliances shifted and changed with time.

We don't get to see how Indians traded with each other or even migrated from one area of the country to another as did their white antagonists. The Lakota of the story, for instance, are presented as if the "sacred Black Hills" was always their home. Yet, the Lakota came from Minnesota long before the white man entered the scene, so the Black Hills were not their original home at all.

No, what we are presented with is the mythical "noble savage" tale, instead of an historical treatment. We have the solid, caring, family oriented Indians being slaughtered at every turn as they stand athwart the blind and greedy American grasp for manifest destiny despite the Indians' best intentions for peace. We are regaled how the Indians' killing of whites is "honorable" and steeped in a "proud" warrior tradition, while the whites just kill indiscriminately for no discernable reason other than racist hatred.

Of course, America's claims to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all men was not extended to the Native Americans just as it was withheld from women and many minorities, this we should not attempt to whitewash. But in many cases the Indians were not entirely innocent bystanders in the wars that occurred with white Americans. Nor were all Indian cultures simply peaceful folks that just wanted to hunt a few buffalo and sit about their teepees contentedly forever more.

Unfortunately, all we get of the Indians in this film is a tale of their mistreatment by whites instead of one showing the richness and varied nature of their cultures. We never see how different one Indian group was from another. We never see how they interacted before white men and we never understand their own rivalries and fights.

All in all the complexity of the era is undermined in this project by portraying the Native Americans as homogeneously as any 1930's western movie might, though biased in the Indians favor instead of the favor of the triumphant cowboy. It is a shame that Spielberg wasted this opportunity to show us something we have never seen before on film but instead chose to show just another politically correct and substance free amalgam of our history once again.


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Warner Todd Huston is a freelance writer and graphic designer. His work ranges from historical essays to popular culture and has been published in several magazines and on many websites. He is the editor for Publius' Forum website at http://www.publiusforum.blogspot.com.

© Copyright 2005 by Warner Todd Huston
http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/huston/050728




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The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Alan Keyes, RenewAmerica, or its affiliates.


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Old 07-29-2005, 08:01 AM   #2
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hmm.. in ways I think the guy has a point and in ways he sounds like he has a hidden agenda.

I also thought the series could've been more historically deep. I had said in another post that the main white characters all seemed to really love the Indians, which I find to be unrealistic. The fact is, some loved the Indians, some hated them and were greedy murderers, and many were in between. We never get to see that inherent conflict between wanting to build a great, prosperous, safe nation, and treating the previous inhabitants with respect and generosity. And, we rarely get to see much of Indian brutality, which did indeed exist, both toward each other and white people.

It's not really a matter of fairness, for me, it's just that I think the real story is so complex and fascinating, and has so many lessons for us in modern life. So many people still live by the ethics of "if it's not happening to me, I don't care" and "the end justifies the means" and "but my cause is honorable" that I think we really ought to explore those issues much more deeply.

With the IRA disarmament, and the London bombings, I have been thinking how even though Indians/Whites have a bad history, we are remarkably at peace with each other. (compared to N. Ireland, the middle east, Eastern Europe, etc.) I think maybe of all the peoples in the world, we have the best chance of helping make a plan for future societies that could avoid yet another repeat of genocide and robbery.
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Old 07-29-2005, 09:30 AM   #3
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Interesting to see the journalist's 'credentials' and what 'publication' this was in.
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Damme ape’semmai, "Andabichidaiboonee’ gimmadu’i.Wihyu memme hainjinee’ nahandu’i. Enne wizha sudei’ tsaangu mabizhiahkande," mai.

The Creator said, "A foreign race of white people will come, who will become your friends. You should treat them well."

The Creator sure had a strange sense of humor!

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Old 07-29-2005, 12:54 PM   #4
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Yes, it probably could've been done more historically and with a little more accuracy, BUT, it's a movie, not a documentary....and then Steven Spielberg made it, not an NDN....just something to consider......
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