Behind the braided wigs, buckskins, and excess bronzer that typified the mid-century "filmic Indian" lies a far richer, deeper history of Indigenous labor, survival, and agency. This history takes center stage in historian Liza Black's new book, Picturing Indians: Native Americans in Film, 1941-1960 (University of Nebraska Press, 2020), which looks at Indigenous peoples' experiences in the American film industry that so often relied upon and reproduced racialized stereotypes of "authentic Indians" to produce profit. Black shows how non-Native film producers, in producing monolithic and historically static Native caricatures for profit, reinforced settler colonial narratives on screen while simultaneously denying Indigenous actors, extras, and staff of their modernity.
Thorough in detail and innovative in analysis, Black incorporates film studies, Native and Indigenous studies, and history, shedding new light on the mid-century film industry and Native peoples' roles in it. Black chronicles the contours of American settler colonialism and its cultural and economic manifestations both on- and off-screen, giving the "authentic Indian" so familiar to non-Native audiences a much-needed dose of historical context. The result is an engaging story of Indigenous talent, labor, and livelihood that transcends critical moments in Native and U.S. histories alike.
Listeners can now purchase Picturing Indians using code 6AF20 for a 50% discount at the author's site.
Annabel LaBrecque is a PhD student in the Department of History at UC Berkeley. You can find her on Twitter @labrcq.