New animated films challenge false representation of Native Americans in the media

January 29, 2009

Popular film and television shows have shaped the way Americans view American history - especially the frontier encounters between settlers and Native Americans. Examining the ways Native Americans are portrayed negatively in Westerns and other film genres, Joanna Hearne, assistant professor of English at the University of Missouri, describes recently produced animated films by Native directors that are countering media misrepresentations and helping promote Native-American stories and languages.

"When non-Native audiences see Native-Americans in Westerns, they often view them as part of the background, as if the actors are not really acting," Hearne said. "Westerns rarely portray Native Americans as having families or children, presenting images of dying or 'vanishing' Indians instead of Native family continuity. This can have a negative impact on Native children who watch the films, because these popular images are hostile to Native families."

In her examination of Native-American representations, Hearne documents many film and television programs that dramatize Native-American subjects but that were produced by non-Native-American directors. Even popular Disney films like Pocahontas and Peter Pan rely upon stereotypes, representing Native characters as threatening aggressors or passive, wise sages, Hearne said.

Animation films based on Native stories, including both digital and clay-animated productions, are growing in popularity. When produced by Native-American directors, animated films tell contemporary and traditional tribal stories accurately. Hearne says this helps youth relate to their communities and offers alternatives to English-language, mass media cartoons.

"Children are invited to learn values and language skills from animated images of storytellers, images that model relationships between younger and older generations," Hearne said. "Indigenous animated films such as Stories from the Seventh Fire and Raven Tales have been able to effectively represent and share Native-American stories from a Native-American perspective. These films address concerns about social accountability both in the languages and cultural values."

Hearne recently published her work on indigenous animated films in the chapter, "Indigenous Animation: Educational Programming, Narrative Interventions, and Children's Cultures," published in Global Indigenous Media.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

Explore further: Cities adapt to growing ranks of coyotes, cougars and other urban wildlife

Related Stories

Australia—riding on the insect's back

May 5, 2015

As you may have spotted, the title of this article is a cheeky reference to the famous saying that Australia rides on the back of a particular woolly ruminant. The reference dates back to 1894, when the wool industry was ...

More infectious diseases emerging because of climate change

February 15, 2015

The appearance of infectious diseases in new places and new hosts, such as West Nile virus and Ebola, is a predictable result of climate change, says a noted zoologist affiliated with the Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology ...

Recommended for you

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

Just how good (or bad) is the fossil record of dinosaurs?

August 28, 2015

Everyone is excited by discoveries of new dinosaurs – or indeed any new fossil species. But a key question for palaeontologists is 'just how good is the fossil record?' Do we know fifty per cent of the species of dinosaurs ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.