RACIAL OTHERS AS THREATS TO WHITE WOMEN

   A subtext in virtually all silent and classic Westerns is that the primary threat to white women is the Racial Other, who will always, given the opportunity, rape and molest in ways far worse than death. In cinema history, the characters from D. W. Griffith’s racist non-Western The Birth of a Nation(1915), as well as characters from his lesser-known early Westerns, provide the most prominent example of what the culture felt was the natural, unabated lust of African American males for white women. Griffith did not hesitate to portray African American Others as lurking in hiding, bug-eyed and salivating, as they observed white women with anticipation. This image continues into all areas of early cinema, including silent Westerns. In later Westerns, efforts were made to mitigate such obvious blackwhite prejudice, but the racism was simply transferred to another Racial Other—Native Americans—and has remained a regular feature of Westerns up to the present. The worst horror for settlers of the frontier, according to the mythof the Westportrayed in cinema, was for Indian savages to capture white women. One Western cliche involves the white male protector, who, during an Indian attack, saves one last bullet for his woman—just in case she is raped: the unstated, yet clearly implied subtext being that the only thing in store for a defiled woman was brutal, regularly repeated rape and enslavement. Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in The Searchers(1956) undertakes a maniacal quest to save his kinswoman Debbie (Natalie Wood) from the savages. When he is about to rescue her from the evil Scar (Henry Brandon), he repudiates her as a contaminated woman. Even a more recent film, The Missing (2003), bases a plot element on the idea of the Racial Other’s inevitable rape of white women. Such stereotyping spans the entire history of the Western despite, according to Cawelti, “considerable evidence that Indians rarely molested their female captives” (1999, 78). Historically, white women faced far greater threats of rape and molestation from white males than from Others.
   See BLANCHETT, Cate.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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