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Alex Jacobs: Native people manage to be seen in 'The Revenant'

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

Mohawk artist and poet Alex Jacobs offers his take on The Revenant, the award-winning film that features several Native actors:
The film supported 15,000 jobs repping hundreds of thousands of work hours. That’s why you won’t see a big time or big budget Native film project developed and made by Natives with all Native crews, anytime soon. There were a lot of Natives in the credits but like the population statistics, a small percentage of a big project. All we can do is continue to develop a grassroots cinematic culture of story-telling and vision-making.

So was the representation worth it or worthwhile? For most people it is a resounding YES, and some of that is begrudging respect for gritty, grimy, snow, ice, fire, smoke and blood filled scenes along with the human narrative. It looks realistic as our ancestors faced inconceivable hardships, and we get to hear Native actor Duane Howard say, “You all have stolen everything...from my people.” There are visual dream sequences that balance the unrelenting aggression that characters have to face. Excellent use of angles and panoramic scenes pit the human scale against the immenseness of Nature. “Revenge is in Creator’s hands” says Arthur Red Cloud’s character in helping Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, survive. Today’s audience is far removed from these myth-making times. So there are critics who feel it is too macho, too manly, too incomprehensible and maybe too much rugged individualism? That is funny because all kinds of people can recall those “hard old days” weren’t that long ago. Natives had to do all that and more. In the story-line, 200 years ago, Natives still had to struggle to be seen and heard and not killed.

Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald and DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass represent the worst and the best of the American mythology, but Glass seeks redemption born from the land, mixed with Native blood and kin. A land-rooted American in opposition to a money-based exploitive culture. Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) is Glass’s son from his Pawnee wife (Grace Dove), he is angry a lot of the time, just as you see many young men today. At least back then you can see the enemy, they’re trying to kill you. Duane Howard is the Ree chief Elk Dog looking for his daughter Powaqa (Melaw Nahkeko) who is aided by Glass in her escape. Arthur Red Cloud plays a sympathetic Pawnee ally to a recovering Glass. Fitzgerald debates Glass about God and who is really God among all the killing and death. Glass delivers low-key right-on nuggets, Fitzgerald talks incessantly covering up his untruths.

Get the Story:
Alex Jacobs: DiCaprio and 'The Revenant': Remaking Movie Mythology (Indian Country Today 1/19)

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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