The documentary Reel Injun is a 2009 film directed by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, who is from the community of Waskaganish in northern Quebec, Canada. It is an important film as it provides an Indigenous perspective on the portrayals of Indigenous peoples in cinema and takes a critical look at the historical approach of Westerns within those depictions. Interviews with filmmakers, actors, film historians and film critics are inter-cut with Diamond’s travels from northern Quebec to Hollywood itself. Those travels include stops at significant locations for Westerns (including Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah) as well as visits to places important in Amerindian history (such as the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota).
Reel Injun includes clips from both classic and more contemporary film portrayals of Indigenous peoples and also examines the previous practice of using non-Native actors in Indigenous roles. Diamond has stated that one of the motivations for the documentary was his own experience as a child in his northern Quebec Cree community. He recalled that after watching Westerns as a child in his home community that all of the children wanted to be cowboys even though they themselves were Native people. Following a move southward for his education, Diamond would be asked by non-Indigenous people if his people lived in teepees or rode horses even though his was a northern people – this experience led Diamond to realize just how pervasive the Hollywood view of Indigenous peoples was in popular culture.
Reel Injun has won a number of awards since its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2009. I would recommend viewing this film and copies would be available online (for sale) or via local library systems. Here is the trailer:
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)