Seeking the Truth in Movie Depictions of Indigenous People

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I love watching movies of all kinds, especially movies about my fellow Indigenous people or Native Americans. Hollywood takes creative license all the time in these types of movies, to the point that they are usually partly true and partly fiction. Some people get really offended by this creative license. They can get pretty angry. And I, too, will say, “That’s not how it happened!”

When a fellow Indigenous person asks me what I thought of The Revenant, with Leonardo DiCaprio, and says, “The movie depicted us as savages who don’t cook our meat and eat it raw!” my response is that for entertainment purposes, I enjoyed the movie, but yes, they went a little extreme in depicting Indigenous people as savages. Other times I’ll watch movies such as The Lone Ranger, with the famous character Tonto, and I’ll wonder why Johnny Depp, a white man, was cast as Tonto. Couldn’t they have found an Indigenous or Native American actor to play that role? There are quite a few of them, you know.

The movie Dances with Wolves, with Kevin Costner, also receives backlash about the portrayal of Native Americans. Yet I don’t allow a few inconsistencies to spoil the whole movie. This is what I think about when I come across this type of movie: I say, “OK, that didn’t really happen; but what did really happen?” It forces me to search the history books to find out. Now some Indigenous people will respond that the history books are written by non-Indigenous people, so they aren’t completely accurate either. This is true to a certain degree. Again, I say to myself, “What really happened?” It forces me to find the truth. I try to focus on what did happen and what I’m going to do with that knowledge.

That’s why I do the work that I do with Word of Hope Ministries, putting on workshops such as, “Understanding Indigenous People More.” This is how I deal with the inconsistencies of movies about Indigenous people. While I, like others, will point out when certain movies get the facts wrong, I try to focus on what did happen and how my life’s journey can help others to understand the truth. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the teachers of the law in the Bible were always criticized by Jesus because of their strictness to the law. So I try not to get caught up too much with strict rigidness.

Regardless of the type of movie you like to watch, most of the time they point to a deeper truth. Yes, use your discernment in what movies are edifying and good to watch, but they are just movies. The main thing is that you know the truth and that the truth has set you free. Share that truth with those around you. When you come across a movie that is part truth and part fiction, seek the truth out and find out what did happen.

Philippians 4:8-9 says, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Words to live by, in movies and in life. 

About the Author

Parry Stelter is originally from Alexander First Nation that is part of Treaty Six Territory. He is a doctoral candidate in contextual leadership with Providence University and Seminary who offers workshops on grief, loss, and intergenerational trauma. He is a member of Hope CRC in Stony Plain, Alta. His website is wordofhopeministries.ca.

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