Arts & Entertainment | Opinion

Gyasi Ross: Native people still treated as objects in 'The Revenant'

A scene from The Revenant. Still image from 20th Century Fox

The Revenant has already won three Golden Globes and is up for 12 Oscars but does it live up the hype? Gyasi Ross takes a closer look at the Indian-White relations in the film:
See, the movie is cool. It’s solid. It’s visually stunning and shows all of the beauty, seductiveness and danger that this continent had to offer. No wonder European settlers wanted to be here—they were starving over in Europe, with no possibility of ever improving their lots in life before they died at the ripe old age of 35. Hence, they were willing to risk (seemingly) almost certain death to try to find their fortunes here. The movie captures that amazingly.

The movie also portrays Native people in a fairly historically accurate light. Native people were brutal during this time period because we had to be brutal. White Americans were brutal. French people were brutal. Native people could not be exempt from that world and were trying to hold on for dear life; guns, germs and steel threatened our very existence. If the movie hadn’t shown Native people with a willingness to participate in the brutality of the time period it would have been inaccurate and dangerous as it would have stripped our ancestors of the dignity of protecting our people at all costs. The white men were terrified of “The Ree” (the Arikara people) and probably with good reason; from historical accounts and also from the movie, the Ree could get down with the best of them and were fierce warriors defending their people.

But the actual human story pushed Revenant into the same “white savior” garbage pile that has permeated pretty much any mainstream movie that includes Natives as major characters. DiCaprio’s “Glass” character is a dirty, vicious, capitalistic and brutal white man who is trying to get some quick money at the expense of Native people’s resources just like every other white man in the movie. The only difference is that Glass has a half-Native son (some of his best friends are black) and so that, evidently, somehow makes him different than the rest of the dirty, vicious, brutal and capitalistic white men. Glass instructs his half-Native son to be silent and to not upset white men, for survival, as white men hold the key to Native people’s survival and can exterminate them at any time. “Be invisible.”

Get the Story:
Gyasi Ross: 'Revenant' Review: It’s Ok, But Still the Same Ol’ White Savior Stuff for Native People (Indian Country Today 1/18)

Another Review:
Jesse Wente: The Revenant is not an indigenous story (CBC 1/14)

Related Stories:
Leo Killsback: The Revenant treats Indians fairly on the screen (1/14)
Leonardo DiCaprio thanks First Nations in Golden Globe speech (1/11)
Native boy lands role as son of Leonardo DiCaprio in new film (08/31)

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