There is perhaps no image more widely recognized yet more grossly misunderstood in American popular culture than the “Indian.” Across a variety of discursive forms, “the Indian” has been represented as everything from an irredeemable savage and an impediment to progress to an idealized figure of romantic freedom and an arbiter of New Age eco-spiritualism.“ The emergence of cinematic technologies in the early twentieth century and the explosion of film production and distribution in the ensuing decades solidified the Noble Savage/Vanishing American as indelible, if contradictory, thread in the fabric of the U.S. national story. Of course, the Reel Indians produced by Hollywood say very little about Real Native peoples who not only refuse to vanish but who consistently reject their prescribed roles in the U.S. national imaginary. Through a juxtaposition of literary, critical, and cinematic texts, the first third of the course will explore the construction of “Reel Indians” from early ethnographic documentaries and Hollywood Westerns to their recuperation as countercultural anti-heroes in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The last two-thirds of the course will examine the various ways in which Native-produced films of the late 1990s to the present contest—if not outright refuse—narrative, generic, and representational constructions of “the white man’s Indian” on the way to imagining more complex possibilities for “Real Indians” in the twenty-first century.
Folklore/Ethnic/Women’s Literature courses focus on works in Folklore, ethnic American writing, and writing by women.
Media, Folklore, and/or Culture courses focus on print and non-print media to explore culture and its processes of creative expression.
Empire, Race, and/or Ethnicity courses focus on ways that race matters in literature, media, and culture. Recent courses have examined such matters as native American literature and film; nineteenth-century writings by slavers and enslaved people in the U.S. and British colonies; fiction and filmmaking in post-apartheid South Africa; Latinx science fiction and environmental justice, and the novels of Toni Morrison.