The way Native Americans were portrayed in Westerns films is very important for understanding the backwardness that is attributed to Native American movie industry today. In the era of Westerns, the concept of a Native Indian actor was nonexistent. The parts of American Indians were played by white, non-indigenous actors who usually had to rely on paint and wigs and make-up to resemble the Native Americans. This practice was very bad for the Native American industry because it didn’t present indigenous actors with the opportunity to play the roles that matched their origins. They were excluded from the start.
Westerns movies were popular films back in the 1930’s trough the 1970’s. They usually portrayed the conquest of the wilderness and the subordination of the local Native American tribes. All these actions were done in the name of civilization. Likewise, the portrayal of Native American as brutes, savages, and wild creatures that inhabited the lands that needed to be conquered is also done so that westerns movies can create a vilified category to serve as the enemy.
Westerns films always include hostile elements that are usually Native Americans characters. They are the ones who stand in the way of expansion and civilization. Native Americans usually attack and ride on horseback, hunt in large groups, and ambush trains and American patrols. They have a dire need to fight for their land, but ultimately they will be cast out in reservations. The classic American characters from westerns films are portrayed as courageous and moral humans, with integrity and masculine features that make the proof of a strong mind in a strong body. On the other hand, Native Americans, because of the director’s desire to discard Native American actors from playing the Native American roles, are emasculating creatures with savage behavior and no culture or heritage at all.