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Picturing Indians: Native Americans in Film, 1941-1960
  • Price: $65.00
  • Hardcover
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University of Nebraska Press
Pub Date: 2020
ISBN: 9780803296800
Liza Black
Picturing Indians: Native Americans in Film, 1941-1960
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Picturing Indians: Native Americans in Film, 1941-1960

by Liza Black

Standing at the intersection of Native history, labor, and representation, Picturing Indians presents a vivid portrait of the complicated experiences of Native actors on the sets of midcentury Hollywood Westerns. This behind-the-scenes look at costuming, makeup, contract negotiations, and union disparities uncovers an all-too-familiar narrative of racism and further complicates filmmakers' choices to follow mainstream representations of "Indianness."

Liza Black offers a rare and overlooked perspective on American cinema history by giving voice to creators of movie Indians--the stylists, public relations workers, and the actors themselves. In exploring the inherent racism in sensationalizing Native culture for profit, Black also chronicles the little-known attempts of studios to generate cultural authenticity and historical accuracy in their films. She discusses the studios' need for actual Indians to participate in, legitimate, and populate such filmic narratives. But studios also told stories that made Indians sound less than Indian because of their skin color, clothing, and inability to do functions and tasks considered authentically Indian by non-Indians. In the ongoing territorial dispossession of Native America, Native people worked in film as an economic strategy toward survival.

Consulting new primary sources, Black has crafted an interdisciplinary experience showcasing what it meant to "play Indian" in post-World War II Hollywood.

“Liza Black systematically studies Indian characters in the Hollywood films of the l940s and l950s and shows how film created a single type of Indian for Native and non-Native actors, though the latter often received higher pay. Black disables this construct, and she offers a stunning history of the experiences of Native American actors who worked in the film industry during these years.”—Lisbeth Haas, author of Saints and Citizens: Indigenous Histories of Colonial Missions and Mexican California