Guest blog: Angela Aleiss, Ph.D.

I saw a working print of Reel Injun and felt that Neil Diamond made it truly “from the heart.” Many documentaries are little more than a series of talking heads and nifty sound bites spliced together, but Neil tells a story of his own journey from northern Canada and across the U.S. to Hollywood to understand the enduring image of Native people in motion pictures. While I don’t always agree with the artists’ comments, I found Neil’s approach genuine and refreshing. I believe audiences will be touched by Neil’s struggle to “recover” the identity of indigenous people in North America.

My only qualm about Reel Injun is that there’s no mention of the late Jay Silverheels, who earned a reputation playing the Lone Ranger’s sidekick Tonto but also appeared in close to 30 feature films. The Canadian Mohawk actor (born Harold J. Smith) was a middle-weight boxer and harness racer; he served on the Board of Directors for the Screen Actors Guild and founded the Indian Actors Workshop. Jay was a tireless supporter of Native American causes, yet too many overlook his contribution to the film industry. Perhaps Re[z]olution Pictures will someday develop his story.

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On another note, I regret that during my interview for Reel Injun I did not mention the Native American roles in the Twilight series. The author of the books, Stephenie Meyer, is a Mormon, and the Quileute images of Twilight are closely tied to the Latter-day Saints’ belief that they share a common ancestral heritage with Indians (who, according to the Book of Mormon, are related to the ancient Hebrews). Few readers have picked up on that theme. But it is a topic of my current project on the Twilight books and movies. Stay tuned.

Angela Aleiss, Ph.D., Film Historian

The author of Making the White Man’s Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies (Praeger, 2005), Dr. Aleiss was a contributing writer for such publications as the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Religion News Service, and has been interviewed by National Public Radio, Voice of America and E! News Daily. Dr. Aleiss is a former postdoctoral fellow at the American Indian Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Toronto. She is currently a visiting assistant professor at UCLA.

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