The West in Film

2945 Words12 Pages
The depiction of minorities, specifically women and Native Americans, in Western film has changed drastically from the early 1930's to the late 1980's. These changes represent the changing views of American society in general throughout the 20th century. In the early part of the century, women and Native Americans were depicted as a burden. Women were viewed as a form of property, helpless and needing support. These minorities were obstacles in the quest for manifest destiny by the United States. Western films during the early 20th century represent the ignorance of American culture towards minorities. As time progressed, society began to develop compassion for Native Americans and men began to see women as equals. The movie industry perpetuated the views of society throughout the last century. When Native Americans were seen as an "obstacle" in westward expansion, film directors supported these views on screen. As society began to question the treatment of Native Americans and women, the film scripts responded to these changes. By looking at western films over the last 60 years, the correlation between societal attitudes and film plots has changed the views of Native Americans and women. The two have worked together to bring the portrayal of Native Americans from savage beasts to victims, and women from property to equals.

In the 1930's Native Americans and women were viewed as inferior races. The films produced during the early part of the 20th century, particularly those starring John Wayne reflected these societal attitudes. The portrayal of minorities in Stagecoach and Fort Apache clearly reflect the views of society at that time. The depiction of the West is similar to that which is found in old history textbooks, em...

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...th the first westward expansion and the oppression of women lasted until the 1950's. However, it took American film produces until the 1990's to create roles for these minorities that were equal to those of white males. The depiction of minorities in western films, particularly women and Native Americans, has made significant progress from the 1930's and this progress has trickled into the teaching of history, particularly western expansion. Textbooks that used to emphasis the triumph and dominance of the United States over Native Americans, are now explaining expansion with less pride and more guilt. Women who played significant roles in society used to be ignored by history books, and are now included in almost every chapter. The progressive movements made by the film industry and society are allowing for Americans to look at the west in a new, enlightened manner.
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