Among the group of people that could use more representation in Hollywood and multi-million dollar media, it would be the indigenous peoples. They are defined as distinct inhabitants of the land with ancestral ties to the domain, making them the true ethical and fundamental land owners of a region. The world could certainly use more movies about indigenous peoples.
Because as it stands, a lot of them bear the brunt of the injustices committed by some of the largest corporations in the world from oil plants to plantations that supply the sugar to the chocolate we eat. Those are just a few examples.
In any case, it’s always good to watch more movies about indigenous peoples in order to expand your worldview and make you more sympathetic to their cause or existence. Here are some good ones.
The Last of the Mohicans
One of the most prominent films about Native Americans, The Last of the Mohicans, is an epic period piece about the members of a dying Native American tribe and their adopted half-white progeny, Hawkeye (played by Daniel Day-Lewis).
It’s mostly a romantic adventure story where the tribe has to rescue a colonel’s kidnapped daughters while dragging themselves into the French-Indian War.
Mohicans symbolized the plight of Native Americans and how their lives were disrupted by European settlers and colonists. Ultimately, the film concludes a tragic ending for the Mohican tribe, as was true for a lot of Native American tribes in the past.
There aren’t many films that focus on the destruction of South American native culture and their homes along the Amazon River, but The Mission is one that dared. Although, the film mostly centers around white Jesuit missionaries who wanted to convert South American natives to Christianity.
Tagging along with them is a convicted man played by Robert De Niro for a chance to redeem himself. The film is based on true events and it also somewhat ended in a tragic conclusion since the South American natives were forcibly enslaved by Portugal due to a treaty.
And while the intervention of the missionaries and their stories were mostly fictional, the ruination of the native tribes was accurate and somehow even much worse in real life. A lot of these historical events happened to native tribes in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
Now for something a little less tragic, here’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. This movie is a story about the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic. Their small, tightly-knit society is suddenly subjected to the brink of collapse after a heinous crime.
What follows after that is a tense tale of betrayal, justice, and the typical hardships of living in such an unforgiving environment.
The film was not well-known outside of Cannes and Canada, but nevertheless, it’s an important milestone for the Inuit people and how their lives were finally given the recognition they needed in some of the biggest media outlets.
On the other side of the globe, among the shining seas of Oceania, hail the Maori. They have adjusted well to modernity in New Zealand, relatively compared to other indigenous peoples, but the Maori still retain their strong traditions, much to the chagrin of a girl named Pai.
Maori, as per their traditions portrayed in the film, only accept males in their chiefdom succession. This succession was upset when the heir dies but his sister, Pai, survived. Pai, however, wasn’t dissuaded by antiquated traditions and trained in order to challenge the waves and win over her stubborn, traditional grandfather.
The film is a great piece of representation for the Maori, and at the same time, it also challenges their cultural notions, which might have become outdated in the face of modernity. That’s why it’s a critically-acclaimed movie that has won many awards.
Dances With Wolves
If you’ve ever seen The Last Samurai, know that that kind of story has already had its bones all the way back to 1990, with Dances With Wolves.
It follows the story of a Civil War soldier who finds friendship in the welcoming arms of Lakota Indians. After the struggles he experienced in his own country, he found the natives’ lifestyle more peaceful and fulfilling, so he abandoned his troop and integrated with the tribe, welcomed as one of their own, and even finds love among them.
But tragedy had to strike sometime and it came in the form of American soldiers and their land-grabbing attempts.
Dances With Wolves was a classic that defended the rights of Native Americans and humanized them. Compared to the rather offensive cowboys vs. Indians trope of decades past, this film marked a refreshing development for Hollywood.
Prey is a unique one and was just released last year. It features a Comanche tribe but at its core, it’s a prequel to the Predator films. This time around, the Predator lands on Comanche territory in order to hunt another species and prove itself as an apex predator. It just so happens that the poor Comanches are the prey.
The hero of the story is a teenage girl named Naru, who was one of the few Comanche warriors left behind after the Predator hunted their group and moved on to the white colonizers. There are a lot of subtexts in the film, mostly symbolizing bullying, colonization, and toxic masculinity.
However, the film is lauded for its premise and setting, as Native Americans were often far from the usual choice for action movie heroes. In any case, the setting fit in well with the film’s theme and even left fans hungry for more prequel Predator movies in other time periods.
Avatar is entirely fictional with its conception of the Navi alien race, but the parallelism and analogy here are hauntingly close. The story is also pretty standard as far as real indigenous peoples’ struggles go. A rich company decides to find more wealth on a moon called Pandora but to maximize their profits, they had to drive the native Navi aliens out of the way.
One of the humans, Jake Sully, integrated with the Navi initially as a spy but found his new home and peace among them. So he fought for their rights and their land– against his own kind’s greed.
It’s a powerful symbolic tale whose point will be missed by only the most dense or the most privileged.