Essay Sample on Understanding Cultures Through Film: A Blessing and a Curse?

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1483 Words
Date:  2023-02-07


Ever since its invention in the later periods of the 19th century, film has provided a means through which individuals get to learn about different cultures and societies. Films provide the much-needed escape fantasies as they introduce audiences to new experiences. Films have been instrumental in revealing various truths about communities. There has however, been instances where film directors and producers fail to correctly depict the traditions and cultures of certain communities. Many individuals depend on films to get an understanding of various societal issues and it is therefore imperative that the directors correctly depict the traditions and cultures of the communities they choose to feature. Films have provided a medium through which difficult topics such as racism can be explored. One inherent danger related with the consumption of films is that they sometimes misrepresent cultures and traditions. It is quite difficult to correct a stereotypic misrepresentation propagated through film and it is therefore necessary to correctly depict cultures. This paper discusses how Native Americans have been depicted in various films. Cultural misrepresentations and stereotypes in films can be avoided if the respective communities play an active role in the directing and production of the films.

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The films Smoke Signals and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner provide important insight on the traditions of Native communities in America. The characters in the film are confronted with a variety of issues impacting the native people. One of the issues pertains to the definition of the native people as Indians. The natives of Canada and North America were collectively referred to as Indians after the arrival of the European settlers. While these native communities have no affiliation to the Indian subcontinent, they were forced to live with the identity imposed unto them. One of the most significant scenes in Smoke Signals involves Thomas and Victor on the bus as they traveled to Arizona to retrieve Victor's father's ashes (Alexie, 1998). Victor and Thomas broke into a heated argument despite the fact that the two were very close friends. One of the issues that comes up during their argument pertains to their decent and background as Indians. Victor makes a comment that seems to insinuate that Thomas was not a "real Indian" (Alexie, 1998). According to Victor, a real Indian is expected to move with a certain posture and to also look like a warrior. It is worth noting that Victor only made those comments because of his deep frustrations and anger against his father whom he believed had abandoned them. Nevertheless, his sentiments help to highlight an important aspect about the native people: that of their warrior-like culture. Native Americans have traditionally been nomadic pastoralists engaging in hunting and gathering to provide food for their families. Only a few native tribes engage in agricultural farming.

In many American films, it is usually the white culture that is depicted. The depiction of white culture in many of these films has largely been accurate due to the fact that the films are directed and produced by individuals who understand and resonate well with the culture. However, in the case of native representations in film, the same has not been achieved. This can be attributed to the fact that very few native people are actively involved in the American film industry. The directors and producers who take on such films struggle to correctly depict native culture due to their limited understanding of the traditions of native people. Ever since the settlement of European settlers in America, the natives have been relegated and left to live on remote reserves where they are cut off from the rest of civilization. The historical alienation of these native communities has created an instance where there is limited information on the culture and traditions of the Indians. Smoke Signals, unlike other films on native communities, offers an accurate depiction of the native culture and traditions. One outstanding feature of the film is that it features an all native cast. The film was also written and directed by a Native American. The accurate depiction of the various native issues could be attributed to the fact that the film features a native cast and is also directed and written by individuals who possess a proper understanding of the culture in question.

The scene in Smoke Signals can be compared to the one in Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. In the latter, the main protagonist Atanarjuat can be seen running stark naked across freezing ice (Angilirq, 2001). In hot pursuit are his enemies who seek to take his life. The Native Americans who occupied present day Canada grew accustomed to the cold and harsh weather of the region. The Inuit people, whose culture is depicted in the film were one of the many native communities living in the North American region. At the onset of European settlement in America, these groups of people were relegated to the reserves as the settlers took over the much fertile lands. Due to the limited historical account of the people's culture, there has been a need to depict these communities' traditions in film. In the case of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, it would have been difficult to correctly depict the Inuit life had the directors not made use native actors. Similar to Smoke Signals, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner makes use of a native cast (Angilirq, 2001). The use of the cast ensured that information about the native communities was not misrepresented nor biased. In an instance where the directors would have instead used a non-native cast, the depiction of some of the scenes would have been inaccurate. The Inuit, for instance, occupied the cold regions of the country. Many non-native actors would not be able to adapt to the environmental conditions on set which would have hampered their performance and depiction of the culture. An analysis of many popular films in America reveals widespread stereotyping of minority groups. For instance, native Indians are usually depicted as costume-wearing communities who constantly engage in war and savagery. However, as it has been revealed through research, costumes, in these native tribes were only worn on special occasions and not during entire times as it has been depicted in many films. Many film producers and directors do not allocate sufficient time and resources towards understanding these native cultures (McLemore, 2016). A majority of them tend to focus on the minor details pertaining to certain communities and in doing so, they forget to highlight issues of greater significance. While the misrepresentation of native culture has been a great issue of concern in the past, it is no longer a major problem due to the fact that many natives are taking part in more of the film-making processes.

The American film industry, for a long time, has inaccurately depicted the native culture. In a majority of the films, native characters are usually left to take up only the minor roles in the films. There is usually also an inaccurate depiction of native behavior. There are more than 562 Indian tribes that are duly recognized by the American government. While the tribes are collectively referred to as Indians, they possess unique traditions and cultures that cannot simply allow for generalizations. In film, however, these traditions are usually generalized which leads to various inaccurate depictions of the natives. It is worth noting that while Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner attempts to depict the culture and traditions of the native people, its representation is not completely accurate. The inaccuracy is due to the fact that it makes use of characters that are drawn from a different community. The film would have been more accurate if they would have made use of Inuit actors. For instance, the scene where Atanarjuat runs naked across the ice may paint an inaccurate representation of the communities' way of life and traditions. The Inuit occupied regions that were largely covered in snow. To cope with their environmental conditions, many of them made use of heavy clothing material. However, in the film, Atanarjuat, the main protagonist can be observed running across the ice completely naked. Such representations may be inaccurate and need to be eliminated in film. In a majority of the Western films, Indians continue to be depicted as savage individual's incapable of revealing their human nature, however, through increased involvement of Native Americans in film, audiences will be provided with a chance to understand the various aspects of the native people's traditions and cultures. Their participation in the film industry will therefore, go a long way in eliminating some of the stereotypes that have come to be associated with their communities.


Alexie, S. (1998). Smoke Signals (1/12) Movie CLIP - The Oral Tradition (1998) HD. (2019). Retrieved 10 August 2019, from

Angilirq, P. A. (2001). Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Retrieved 10 August 2019, from

McLemore, M. (2016). Native American Portrayals in Film History. Retrieved from

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Essay Sample on Understanding Cultures Through Film: A Blessing and a Curse?. (2023, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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