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

Annuka Crawls Out of Her Shell

By Lauren Eisner, with comments by Kathryn Burke and Eddie Strumfels

[1] In Bruce Beresford's film, Black Robe, the character of Annuka shows the empowerment of a native woman as she evolves from a quiet, shy female to a woman who uses her sexual power to her advantage and finally into a woman who takes control and speaks exactly what's on her mind. In the scene Annuka Helps Everyone Escape (1:09:27), the true turning point and complexity of this character is expressed. Annuka, who is viewed as weak, shows in the scene that she has a form of power.

[2] Annuka, the beautiful and extremely multidimensional native maiden, is the kind of character who plays many roles. She originally portrays the role of the shyly naïve young girl of the film; however, Beresford quickly comes to terms with Annuka as a woman of high sexual prowess and desire. Sex plays a strong role in fulfilling her life and passions. In fact, she even thinks that the Blackrobe must be a demon, since he never has sex with women. Annuka is a kind-hearted, nurturing native, who saves both her father Chief Chomina and Daniel through her selfless actions. However, she may be viewed as immoral, particularly by Fr. LaForgue, because of her sexual desires and actions. The irony remains that LaForgue states that he, too, lusted over Annuka. She remains an attractive figure of temptation throughout the film.

[3] In the scene Daniel Tries to Speak with Annuka (0:17:04), the early behavior of Annuka is portrayed. As Daniel reaches out to her, she tells him that he shouldn't touch her and remarks that he always stares at her when the Black Robe LaForgue isn't looking. She demands that Daniel explain himself, since she remains confused by her attraction to this French stranger. At this stage of her development, she holds back any desires and remains the respected and conservative daughter of a Chief.

[4] In later scenes, the more opinionated side of Annuka is brought to attention or, rather, comes to life, as in Chomina Chastises Annuka (0:26:09). Chomina taunts Annuka about her love of the "ugly Frenchman," but she counters that Daniel is not ugly to her. She continues to cross cultural boundaries and separate from the natives due to her growing relations with Daniel.

[5] Perhaps the greatest turning point in Annuka's portrayal as a character occurs in the scene Annuka Helps Everyone Escape (1:09:27). She uses what remains her only power--her sexuality--throughout her entrapment in order to save those she loves. She becomes a character representative of great power and control due to her brave actions in this scene. (see comment by Kathryn Burke)

[6] As we see Annuka grow more and more into her role as an ironically powerful native, she takes stock of her new power of leadership by forcing it on those around her. Annuka makes two strong power plays by taking a stand against the male dominance in her environment. In Chomina Waits for Death (1:18:13), Annuka expressly follows her father's directions and then orders the men, particularly LaForgue, to allow her father to die in peace. In her final scene in the film, Blackrobe Must Walk Alone (1:22:07), Annuka keeps to her father's dream and demands that Blackrobe continue his journey on his own. The true character of Annuka comes out in her final scene, where she exercises complete power over the men. The empowerment of the native woman is shown through the ever-evolving nature of Annuka. (see comment by Eddie Strumfels)

[7] In the climax of Annuka's representation as a character, Annuka Helps Everyone Escape (1:09:27), she takes control of the life and death situation and uses her sexual power to save those she truly loves. For the first time this native woman takes actions fully into her own hands and causes an extreme impact. Annuka crawls over to the native guard who towers over her and looks up at him with a piercing glare. She makes eye contact, and through their shared glimpses it is clear that she is willing to provide and he to accept an immediate sexual favor. The guard slyly smiles and cuts her limiting wrist and leg bands. Annuka and the guard then engage in the most animalistic, primal sexual act -- dog-style intercourse. The guard remains in full costume, while Annuka appears extremely disheveled during the act, furthering the image of Annuka as animal-like. Ironically, this is the type of intercourse she preferred before she met Daniel and turned to the only style of sex viewed as moral by whites – missionary-position sex. Annuka -- then portrayed in arguably the weakest, most compromising, and emotional position -- exchanges all her sexual power for physical strength and slams a moose bone into the guard. She immediately moves to release both her father and Daniel, who both painfully witnessed the extremely disturbing scene. Annuka improves her standing in the scene from the weakest individual -- a kidnapped and bound female -- to the strongest individual, a female who knowingly uses sex to entrap foolish men with their own testosterone.

[8] The film's overall force or, rather, aim to respect natives creates a truly complicated situation, as emphasized by the portrayal of the evil native guard in this climactic scene. The guard, dressed in complete native garb, including a feather head-dress, completely disrespects and abuses another native. Annuka, although a willing participant, is not in a power position at the beginning of the scene and is placed in an unfair situation. The irony remains that the white man, Daniel, treats her with such great respect as they make passionate love, while the native guard quickly fulfills his sexual desire, using her only as a body part. The audience would seemingly lose respect for natives, not only due to the actions of the guard but possibly due to Annuka's actions involving continuously "immoral" sexual acts.

[9] Annuka crosses all cultural boundaries and involves herself both sexually and emotionally with the white man Daniel. From the first moment Daniel laid eyes on her, he fell in love with the exotic beauty. She, too, was drawn to and interested in Daniel and all the newness he brought with him. These two defy and surpass all the limiting factors that try to suppress their love, including the disapproval of both the natives and LaForgue.


Kathryn Burke (Feb. 2009)

The scene in which Annuka helps everyone escape is so powerful because until its midpoint, the viewer is unsure what Annuka’s motivations are in engaging in intercourse with the guard. Is it purely for her pleasure? Is it to put herself in a position of good favor with the enslaving tribe? Moments before this scene, we hear several of the Native Americans remark that they will burn Annuka at the stake the next day. With regard to her behavior prior to this point, it is shocking that Annuka helps Father LaForgue and Daniel escape. While she has been forming a relationship with Daniel, she has also rejected him among the rest of her tribe. When the other men are about to shoot Daniel, Annuka makes no move to stop them, and she also shows no kindness to him when he leaves Father LaForgue to join the Native Americans. Annuka’s brave act in helping her companions escape proves her true character.

Eddie Strumfels (April 2012)

What I find especially important about Annuka insisting Laforgue follow Chomina's dream is how it represents Annuka's complete maturation into an adult woman. When she tells Laforgue he must abide by the dream, she is interpreting dreams just like Chomina's wife after his first visions of death. Annuka has changed incredibly from the girl we met at the start of the movie -- now Annuka has fallen in love, she has been beaten and captured, she saw her child murdered, she manipulated a man with her sexuality and escaped from a horrible death. By the time Chomina has died, Annuka has replaced the former's wife as a strong, wise female leader. Though she endured terrible things, she ends the film having grown into an adult woman capable of leading her people.