Native American movies have gone a long way from the first Hollywood productions that featured Native American characters as savages riding horses and constantly screaming.
In 1956, the movie ‘The Searchers’, directed by John Ford, earned a reputation for the first balanced portrayal of American Indians. Still, the production process wasn’t as balanced as the movie because the actors and consultants who worked on the movie and were of Native American origins were also paid less than their fellow colleagues. But Ford’s efforts were groundbreaking for those times and they paved the way for future movies.
The year 1970 was the truly groundbreaking year for Native American movies, as Dan George was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the movie ‘Little Big Man’. This movie was also the first one in which American Indians were featured as real human beings, some good, some bad, and not as pale, stereotypical characters. Five years later, Will Sampson will achieve another performance by delivering an inspired role as Chief Bromden, in the movie ‘One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest’. Still, his performance was overlooked by the Hollywood press, who simply stated that he was just another acting Indian. Sampson became a typecast in the eyes of many directors who refused to hire him for more roles, but the actor was determined to make a change in the Native American movie industry. That is why he founded the American Indian Film Institute, which is one of the producers of the American Indian Film Festival, the biggest one on the planet.
Native American films that are noteworthy also include ‘A Man Called Horse’ and ‘Dance with Wolves’. Today, movie producers try to do their best in hiring American Indian actors for American Indian films, but problems still occur and people still misunderstand the Native American film industry.