Every Thanksgiving since I was a kid we've celebrated Thanksgiving by watching something Native American related. There's a lot of reasons for this, starting but the main one is Natives started Thanksgiving so I figured we should honor them. As I now have a blog and a few readers I figured I should run down a list of 5 really good Native based films you should watch. There are others (Skins comes to mind) but these are five introductions, shall we call it.
NOTE: This list will not include Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves or Last of the Mohicans because EVERYONE has seen those. But if you haven't, you should. They're great.
Squanto: A Warriors Tale
The oft forgotten older brother to 95's Pocahontas this 1994 Disney movie may be a little simplistic, but it's an excellent introduction to Native history. Briefly, it's about a Native Warrior, captured by British soldiers who escapes from captivity to find his village and people devastated. Those of you who've taken American History may know he also started the first Thanksgiving. It's also well acted, mostly well written, gorgeously shot and rather unflinching in it's portrayal of the brutality inflicted on the Natives. It's not a perfect movie, but if you have a kid in the house, it's probably best.
Based on the EXCELLENT Sherman Alexie book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (don't ya just love that title?) Smoke Signals tells the story of Victor Joseph and Thomas Buildsthefire traveling to Phoenix, Arizona to pick up Victor's father's ashes. It's a rather touching little story, devoted primarily to the alternating views of Victor's father from Victor's and Thomas' differing point of view. It's primarily a comedy, but it does have several dramatic scenes. Overall a sweet and well written film, and if you haven't seen it you probably should.
Based on a series of real events in the 70's, this one tells the story about a half-Native FBI Agent sent to a Lakota reservation to investigate a murder and begins to discover a growing conspiracy to frame a Native for the murder. Featuring a solid lead role from Val Kilmer and a fantastic supporting role from Grahm Greene (who you might remember from Dances With Wolves), it's easily one of the darker offerings in this list. It takes some liberties with the facts, but much of what happens in it is based on real events. And that should terrify you.
Now HERE'S an obscure offering. For those of you who were worried that these would all be historical or dramatic films, here is an out-and-out action film. Starring Steven Bauer and Irene Bedard (who played Pocahontas in...well...Pocahontas) it's devoted to a cop who saw his partner murdered an goes to a Navajo reservation in witness protection. Surprise, surprise, trouble follows him. Compared to the others, it's not particularly deep or relevant, but it's a well made action film set on a Native Reservation and it's exciting and enjoyable, even while it doesn't have a lot on it's mind.
No, not Dreamcatcher, a spectacularly shitty Stephen King movie, this one is devoted to a troubled 17 year old and his grandfather traveling to the All-Nations Powwow. Along the way the grandfather tells him a series of stories, which believe or not, teach the kid something about himself and help him mature. Yes it's fairly rote, but it's mostly just a framing device for the much more interesting traditional Native stories. The CGI is a little unfinished and it looks noticeably cheap, but it's a nice story well told. Think of it as Big Fish retold with Native Folktales and you're about halfway there.
Oh. And Happy Thanksgiving.