Dances with Wolves

825 Words4 Pages
The representation of American Indians in US pop culture is troubling at best: natives are frequently depicted as violent savages and out of touch with human values. To counter this, Kevin Costner, being part Cherokee himself, chooses to portray a positive and realistic image of American Indians in his film Dances with Wolves. Although one could argue that the film does appear to validate certain stereotypes, Costner calculatedly—much like a game of chess—uses these stereotypes to connect with his viewers and ultimately forces them into checkmate without their realizing. Dances with Wolves is an entertaining film that challenges Western misconceptions and remains sensitive to American Indian concerns. On his way to Fort Sedgwick, Lieutenant Dunbar and his guide Timmons encounter a decimated wagon with some human remains and arrows lying near. This image serves two purposes: to draw the audience into the film by playing on the stereotype that Indians kill innocent travelers, as well as foreshadow what is to happen to Timmons. After dropping Dunbar off at the fort, he asks Timmons about the Indians, to which Timmons responds: “Goddamned Indians! Nothing but thieves and beggars!” Again, although his language is crude, this enables the audience to connect with the film by reinforcing indigenous stereotypes. Costner deals a heaping portion of poetic justice with the Pawnee ambush on Timmons while he is leaving the fort. Although on the surface this appears to reinforce the stereotypical image of violent Indians, the audience is able to feel that in some way Timmons’ death might be justified. In this way, Costner begins to reverse the viewers’ stereotypes. Dunbar’s first encounter with the local natives comes when the Sio... ... middle of paper ... ...soldiers from tracking down him and the tribe. As a farewell token, Dunbar offers Kicking Bird his peace pipe. Kicking Bird asks, “how does it smoke?” Here, Kicking Bird’s use of the correct form of the auxiliary verb “do”, coupled with the infinitive form of smoke, demonstrates the effort he has put forth to learn English. In this instance, Costner shows us an Indian who has learned English not to communicate with traders, but rather to solidify his friendship with Dunbar. Costner’s film offers a realistic portrayal of the complexities of frontier life during the 19th century. Costner successfully drives home a message of mutual respect and understanding by carefully offering, then shattering, misconceptions the audience may carry about native people. By the end, the audience is able to walk away with a sense of compassion toward the Native American cause.

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