cover image

Picturing Indians

Native Americans in Film, 1941-1960

Liza Black

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 10/2020
Pages: 366
Subject: Social Science
eBook ISBN: 9781496223753

DESCRIPTION

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.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Liza Black is a citizen of Cherokee Nation. She is an assistant professor of history and Native American and Indigenous studies at Indiana University.    

REVIEWS

"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    

"Liza Black's exhaustively researched study of American Indian actors fills a gap in scholarship on Native American performance by focusing on the most influential and damaging period for Hollywood's representations of Native peoples. Highlighting their efforts to make a living in the film industry and negotiate its expectations, Black powerfully demonstrates Native people's survival and agency, as well as the ways popular culture created and abetted narratives that continue to support indigenous erasure and dispossession."—Nicolas G. Rosenthal, author of Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration and Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles  

RELATED TITLES