Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> New World, The (2005) >>

Broken Arrow (1950)
Ground-breaking western. In the post-Civil War Indian war period, retired Army scout Tom Jeffords (played by Jimmy Stewart and based on a real figure), "tired of the killing," comes to think of the Apaches as human beings, not savages, and seeks to broker a peace with Cochise. Jeffords and Cochise learn to respect each other as "brothers," and Jeffords -- most importantly for our purposes -- fall in love with an Indian girl, like the story of Smith and Pocahontas. His Indian brother tries to dissuade him -- "Isn't it better to love with your own?" -- but not only do Jeffords and Sonseeahray marry happily, but he negotiates a successful peace. However, a recalcitrant band of whites kill Sonseeahray during an attempt to capture Cochise, requiring, ironically, the now peace-oriented Cochise to lecture the now savagely vengeful Jeffords on the need for restraint. But the distraught Jeffords turns his back on the new social order he has helped create, riding off alone in true western hero fashion, but remembering his Indian lover as the "symbol of peace" and keeping her spirit with him always.
"Enter the Lone Ranger" (from the Lone Ranger television series, 1949)
Perhaps the most well-known bonding of white man and Indian man in all of American popular culture is that of Tonto and his "kemosabe," the Lone Ranger. In this mythic pairing (virtually a "marriage"), Indian and white work together over and over again to rid the chaotic and barbaric West of (mainly) white savages. Almost any episode of the 1950s television series or any of the Lone Ranger films will work for comparison purposes, but "Enter the Lone Ranger," the first episode of the television series that ran from 1949-1957, is especially significant. In this episode Tonto comes across a mortally wounded Texas Ranger, the only Ranger left after an ambush by the Bad Guys. Miraculously, this lone ranger turns out to be the very man who years ago saved Tonto's life, and Tonto now pledges himself to return the favor. In memory of his fallen comrades, the masked Lone Ranger pledges to "devote his life to establishing law and order in this new frontier, to make the West a decent place to live." "Me help you fight outlaw," chimes in Tonto, "me want law here too, for all." And off they go. "Hi Ho, Silver, awayyyy!"
The Far Horizons (1954)
A major Hollywood film about the 1803 Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase and stake America's claim to the vast territory extending to the Pacific Ocean. Indian woman Sacagawea (who is often clustered with Pocahontas and Cortes's mistress Malinche as classic Indian women who sided with white culture) was an indispensable guide for this expedition and has been honored for her service throughout our history, even appearing on a special Silver Dollar in 2000. This version of her story -- just like Pocahontas and Smith -- focuses almost solely on a fabricated romance between Sacagawea (Donna Reed) and James Clark (Charlton Heston), nurtured through a series of rescues Sacagawea performs. Sacagawea even visits Washington, like Pocahontas visits London, where her story comes to an end.
Ikwe (1987)
In 1770 Ikwe, a young Ojibway girl, daughter of the chief like Pocahontas, has a prophetic dream (like that sometimes ascribed to Pocahontas) of the arrival of a hairy (white) man and haunting images of trouble among her people. The white man turns out to be a fur trader, with whom she enters an arranged marriage, not especially desired by either party, as a bond for their business dealings. Their inter-racial marriage is occasionally tender, but the man is all about making money, and the cultural differences are unbridgeable. When the man sends her son away to be educated, Ikwe takes their other two children and returns to her tribe, probably carrying the smallpox that soon devastates her people. In a wrenching final scene, Ikwe, incredibly strong throughout, sends her very small and uncontaminated daughter away alone into the wilderness, with some hope that as a child of two cultures she will survive.
Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994)
An interesting comparison might be made with a film about an Indian woman who champions her people by fighting against the whites. This is the true story of Mary Crow Dog, Indian activist involved in the uprising of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
This is the latest of several film versions of one of James Fenimore Cooper's classic Leatherstocking Tales. The comparison element to consider here is not only the inter-racial male bonding of Natty Bumppo, Chingachgook, and Uncas but the dreaded forbidden love of Bad Indian Magua for the blonde white beauty, Cora. The union and possible union of the races is played out in several interesting ways here.
Sayonara (1957)
Love and marriage across the color barrier as in the standard Pocahontas representations. This was a fairly controversial film in 1957. Factually based. In Korean-War-era Japan, the U. S. Army has formal and rigorous regulations against relationships between soldiers and Japanese women. In the sub-plot, an American soldier and his Japanese wife, who have married in spite of strong Army discouragement, commit suicide when he is about to be sent back home without her, separating them forever. In the main plot, the mutual love of an American war hero (played by Marlon Brando) and a nationally acclaimed Japanese dancer succeeds in steeling them to break through their personal as well as cultural barriers, bidding "Sayonara" (farewell) to the world of racial intolerance. The film is an obvious call for multicultural understanding.
The Squaw Man (1914, also 1918 and 1931)
Made three times by renown film director Cecil B. DeMille. English aristocrat flees to the American West to escape a bogus embezzlement charge. He eventually marries Indian princess Nat-u-Rich, who, like Pocahontas, has saved his life, twice, in fact -- shooting a gunman and then rescuing him wandering lost and snowblind in a wintry wilderness. Faced both with losing her child to education back in England and imminent arrest for the murder of her now-husband's assailant, Nat-u-Rich, powerless to act against the dominant white culture, commits suicide, leaving her husband distraught. The tableau in the closing scene, however, suggests that the "squaw man" with his mixed race son will be re-incorporated into white society.

See Also

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)

Avatar (2009)

Captain John Smith and Pocahontas (1953)

The Last Samurai (2003)

Pocahontas (1910)

Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998)

Pocahontas: The Legend (1995)

The Searchers (1956)