CULT-OF-THE-INDIAN WESTERN

   The cult-of-the-Indian Western refers to a kind of alternative Western, sometimes called counterculture Westerns. The term originates with Richard Slotkin. Throughout the history of the Western, Native Americans have mostly been treated unfairly and stereotypically. However, beginning in the 1960s, several films began to treat Native American culture not just sympathetically or nostalgically, but as morally superior to the dominant white culture, both of frontier history and of the contemporary moment. Cheyenne Autumn(1964), The Great Sioux Massacre (1965), and A Man Called Horse (1970) are considered cult-of-theIndian Westerns. The earliest prototype, however, is probably Soldier Blue (1970), with its portrayal of the historic Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 being a cultural parallel to the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam (1968). Little Big Man(1970) also developed an antihero character in Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), who deflates one Western stereotype after another. The Native America idealized in Little Big Man is, essentially, the American counterculture of the late 1960s. The appearance of these 1960s and 1970s films coincided with a national reevaluation of Native American culture in such academic and popular works as Leslie Fiedler’s Return of the Vanishing American (1966) and Vine Deloria’s Custer Died for Your Sins (1969) and in the emergence of the politically aggressive American Indian movement. Perhaps the most significant cult-of-the-Indian Westerns, however, are Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990) and Walter Hill’s Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), as they are based on new Western history.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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