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Films >> Black Robe (1991) >> Scene Analysis >>

Encountering the "Other"

By Megan Snyder, with comment by Kim Weber

[1] The majority of "relationships" in the movie Black Robe evolve quite predictably; there are many instances in which the Jesuits and the Natives are portrayed as adversaries. Bruce Beresford creates scenes where you can see the cultures' "other-ness" shining through. The relationship between Mestigoit and LaForgue, for instance, is quite the spectacle and proves just that; neither one has much acceptance for the other's culture. Through these scenes viewers get the "well-known" sentiment of skepticism between the Europeans and the Natives.

[2] However, in the movie one such relationship breaks this mold, while maintaining some sentiment about "otherness." Annuka's first interaction with Daniel is different [0:23:22]. Here Beresford chooses to show the other side of the coin, and by doing so, in Ward Churchill's accurate statement, he "explore[s] the complexities of Indian/White interactions during the formative phase of…colonialism" (116). Here Beresford is trying to show how these two people are neither Algonquin nor French. Annuka and Daniel are going through an internal battle with themselves, as to whether or not their affections are appropriate. However, appropriate to others or not, they continue. (see comment by Kim Weber)

[3] If you remember, Annuka boldly strides up to Daniel (earlier she had been eyeing him up while rowing), and she assertively initiates "first contact." Here she seems unafraid of any sort of hesitation that Daniel or her elders may have with the encounter. Continuing with her boldness, she passionately kisses this white man. Daniel senses the possible problem with an interracial relationship, however, and they both look to see if Chomina notices the incident. Their relationship throughout the entire scene is entirely "secretive"; neither one speaks aloud; most of the language you see between them is silent "body-language."

[4] Her parents later notice Annuka's interest in Daniel, and she is then confronted by her father Chomina. He asks what good is the white-man to her and further notes that he is ugly. Beresford does an interesting thing when he allows Annuka to stand up to her father and show him that she doesn't find him ugly, that, in fact, she finds him attractive. Further on in the movie you see a transition in Chomina; because of Annuka's persistence in caring for Daniel, Chomina acquiesces and allows the translator to continue with them.

[5] Annuka's fearlessness about racial difference allows her to act in many situations that lead to survival for herself and her people. For instance, she acts selflessly when she offers herself to the Iroquois captor in order to set Daniel and LaForgue free. Likewise, later she is assertive as to carrying out her father's wishes; she does not let LaForgue intimidate her or allow him to compromise her tribe's beliefs.

[6] This intrepid first encounter sets the audience up to view a side of Native Americans that they rarely experience in movies of Euro-Native encounters. The audience begins to see Algonquin acceptance of and quite possibly their "dependence" upon another culture.


Kim Weber 4/30/12

I agree with Snyder’s analysis of the struggles of “otherness” Daniel and Annuka endure as a result for their feelings for one another, and this is especially apparent in their “first contact” scene. However, I was also struck by Daniel’s transformation over time because of his feelings, and I think this transformation allowed him to gain more acceptance than he would have otherwise from Annuka, if not the rest of the tribe. By Daniel’s final scene in the film, he is dressed much more like the natives than he was in the earliest scenes. His hair is adorned, and he wears a headdress of fur much like many of the native leaders. At this point in the film, he has also previously deserted Father Laforgue in favor of the natives, proving his desire to be with them and more specifically, Annuka. Although both Daniel and Annuka seem to be in some kind of cultural limbo, Daniel seems much more willing to forgo his culture in favor of his feelings. He gives up on his goal of joining the priesthood back in France very quickly once he meets Annuka. Additionally, in contrast, Annuka holds fast to her beliefs, even in the final scenes of the film. As Father Laforgue tries to convert her dying father, Annuka rebukes him saying to get away and that dreams never lie. Despite the fact that she is alone with two French men and all of her people have been killed, she still defends her traditional cultural belief of the strength and prophetic qualities of a dream.