Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond takes an entertaining and insightful look at the Hollywood Indian, exploring the portrayal of North American Natives through a century of cinema.
Traveling through the heartland of America, and into the Canadian North, Diamond looks at how the myth of “the Injun” has influenced the world’s understanding – and misunderstanding – of Natives.
Reel Injun traces the evolution of cinema’s depiction of Native people from the silent film era to today, with clips from hundreds of classic and recent Hollywood movies, and candid interviews with celebrated Native and non-Native film celebrities, activists, film critics and historians.
Diamond meets with Clint Eastwood (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, Unforgiven) at his studios in Burbank, California, where the film legend discusses the evolution of the image of Indians in Westerns and what cowboy-and-Indian myths mean to America. Reel Injun also hears from legendary Native American activists John Trudell, Russell Means and Sacheen Littlefeather.
Celebrities featured in Reel Injun include Robbie Robertson, the half-Jewish, half-Mohawk musician and soundtrack composer (Raging Bull, Casino, Gangs of New York), Cherokee actor Wes Studi (Last of the Mohicans, Geronimo), filmmakers Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man) and Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals) and acclaimed Native actors Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves, Thunderheart) and Adam Beach (Smoke Signals, Clint Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers). Diamond also travels North to the remote Nunavut town of Igloolik (population: 1500) to interview Zacharias Kunuk, director of the Caméra d’or-winning The Fast Runner.
Reel Injun’s humour and star power is balanced with insightful commentary from film critics and historians, including CBC film critic Jesse Wente, Angela Aleiss, author and scholar of American Indian Studies, and Melinda Micco, associate professor of ethnic studies at Mills College in California.
In Reel Injun, Diamond takes the audience on a journey across America to some of cinema’s most iconic landscapes, including Monument Valley, the setting for Hollywood’s greatest Westerns, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, home to Crazy Horse and countless movie legends. Was Crazy Horse the inspiration for the mystical warrior stereotype? In search of answers, we meet his descendants on the desperately poor Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota.
Reel Injun traces the evolution of cinema’s depiction of Native people from the silent film era to today, only to find the future of Native cinema in the unlikeliest of places – Canada’s North.
It’s a loving look at cinema through the eyes of the people who appeared in its very first flickering images and have survived to tell their stories their own way.