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HBO Buries the Truth at Wounded Knee

Stuff "poetic license." That's the term to describe when film or television producers take a book, or worse yet, historical facts, and play fast and loose with the truth to suit a lower purpose. In other words, appealing to my peers in middle-class suburbia who are the coveted demographic for said poetically licensed production because they have the damned cash to buy whatever it is they're hawking.

Yep. That's what it's called.

"Poetic license" is coming 'round the mountain once again, this time in HBO's upcoming movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, based on the 1971 book by Dee Brown. To be aired Memorial Day weekend, the film has taken the life of Charles Eastman and seasoned and spiced it to make him McTastier.

And just who is Charles Eastman? Portrayed in the film by Adam Beach, he was the Santee political activist, Dartmouth-educated doctor and cofounder of the Boy Scouts who HBO thought, in their supreme wisdom, wasn't interesting enough even though he was a political activist, Dartmouth-educated doctor and cofounder of the Boy Scouts. Apparently, that wasn't sufficiently palatable, especially to mainstream audiences whose knowledge of Native America is limited to Little Big Horn, casinos and Russell Means.

Thankfully, no references to Russell were added, ditto for casinos probably 'cause the movie is set in the 19th century. So what's left? Huzzah--let's put Charles Eastman at the Battle of the Little Bighorn! So that's what HBO did. Forget the fact that the real Eastman was attending school hundreds of miles away in Nebraska at the time.

This is what y'all call "poetic license."

According to the New York Times, the network carefully considered its decision. Daniel Giat, who adapted Brown's book for the screenplay, recently said to a group of television writers "Everyone felt very strongly that we needed a white character or a part-white, part-Indian character to carry a contemporary white audience through this project."

At least that's the truth.

Of course, apologists tell us that it's the "bigger issue" that's paramount. That "poetic license" is standard practice in adaptations; therefore adding and cutting and fabricating is just dandy and a-okay as long as it remains intellectually honest.

Intellectually honest? Not when you have a real-life person engaging in a major battle he never fought in. Intellectual honesty is when you add dialogue and scenes to flesh out the story but remain faithful to the known facts. That ain't the case here. HBO IS FABRICATING HISTORY TO APPEAL TO WHITE FOLKS.

As Bury My Heart producer Dick Wolf was quoted in the Times article, "It is a dramatization, and we needed a protagonist."

Hey, let me share something with you. As a bona fide white person, I don't need made up history to swallow what actually happened. Believe me, we CAN handle the truth and the time has come for my fellow white folks in the media to acknowledge that.

So please o' please--stop already. This has nothing to do with "poetic license" and even more so, "intellectual honesty." This has everything to do with making the lead Native character a superhero Mr. And Ms. Mid-America could love. Think Little-Spidey-on-the-Prairie.

Not to take "poetic license" here, but I bet that wasn't Dee Brown's intention when he wrote his groundbreaking book 36 years ago. Nevertheless, I'm sure my hunch is helluva lot closer to the truth than Charles Eastman wielding a tomahawk against Custer's Seventh Cavalry along a dusty Montana creek.
Carole Quattro Levine

"Bury My Heart's" Bias Against Indians

The producers have implied they didn't want to make an anti-government movie. It would've been too negative, too hard to sell. Instead they watered down Dee Brown's book to make it palatable to viewers. That may have been a marketable choice, but it sure wasn't a moral one. Wolf and company have said all the right things in published interviews. They may not even be aware that they softened Brown's emphasis. But a lack of conscious intent doesn't change the results. HBO's movie is prejudiced against Indians. To recap: According to "Bury My Heart," the Indians massacred the soldiers at Little Big Horn. The Army was merely emulating the tactics of the Sioux before them. Dawes had a noble plan to save the Indians. Sitting Bull cared more about his perks than his people. Modern life was too much for Indians such as Eastman to handle. The deaths of Sitting Bull and the Sioux at Wounded Knee were unfortunate mistakes. If that isn't an anti-Indian bias, I'm not sure what is. "Bury My Heart" takes a clear case of wrongdoing and muddles it. In this version of history, there are no good or bad guys. Flawed Americans, flawed Indians ... they're all the same. For the full review, go to Bury My Heart Review.
Rob Schmidt

The Artistry of Graham Greene

Thanks for this fine look at this fine actor. He's what theater is all about.
J.J.
read Carole Levine's article

Graham Greene at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival - 2007

I concur with everything that the author said in her story. I saw Graham Greene in those two plays in September and he was awesome!
Lana Boldi

read Carole Levine's article

Great Comment on Graham Greene

Graham Greene is the most under-appreciated actor I have ever met. Those of us who have been his long time fans have watched his excellence in his craft get little recognition or few greatly admired alocades. As for those of us who recognized his immense talent in Dances with Wolves, we have had nothing but wonderful preformances time and time again. He has been worth every ounce of praise we have given him.
AngelofLight
read Carole Levine's article

Spirits for sale! A documentary, but at what price?

Sometimes, I ask myself? Why why why? I remember a vision I had a time ago. One, where we can do justice for our people, give hope for our children. You know--a better tomorrow! One where we can remember yesteryear, where we can say, "we are making change slowly, but in small steps.." because, that's the way they work, the Otherside to this side! Its not I, or it's not you, or them....its Mitakuyase, our relatives who come and give us visions of the past, present and future. They are the ones who give us hope, courage, and the gifts to carry them out. The simple fact is that they are trying to tell us something. What? Well, these ways are sacred. These ways are powerful! They must be done without question the Right way, because they were made to be simple and yet done with love and compassion. Yet, we teach and promise and Promise to the eager, determined, vulnerable, the ones who will pay money, for what? So they can be Lakota, pray like Lakotas...be Lakotas...if that's the way it rolls..then what have we learned from them...some of them know better...but do they care...no....is it power and control which drives people to become self-proclaimed Medicine men overnight?. Like buying a pipe from Praire Edge in Rapid City...like saying buy me, then I will make you Lakota....is it the good feeling they get when someone is abused and abused in sweat or ceremony! Is it the White man, or who is the White man these days? I dont know who's a better man, the White man saying he's a Lakota Medicine Man...or i the Lakota man abusing our children in ceremonies and getting away with it. My many adventures and travels around the country have led me to witness--the butchering and mutilation of these sacred Lakota ways. I get a sick feeling, a very sad feeling of a vision for tomorrow. Like watching our relatives who lie there at Wounded Knee, knowing they were sacrificed to please the pride of the invaders. How many more people will be sacrificed on our reservations? How many more must suffer generations of the same cycle over and over of Genocide and abuse of our ways? So I must say this--it's time to take these ways back! When will we stand together as a nation of visionaries, healers, and protectors of this way of life? When will people know, or is the excuse they just dont know any better? I'm all about healing and being happy to live a beautiful life. So being a co-producer of "Spirits for sale!" my message is simple: dont sell these ways. Tunkasila is watching, always. The Swedes just dont know how it is. I jumped on board because it was exciting to actually put a part of my vision in the movie. We sat down at the bottom of Bear Butte and talked. This was never about fame or making money...it was about a vision that came from the heart....the vision that flowed thru my Minicojou blood, remembering my relatives on the other side...its why I push and promote the movie. I couldn't care less about a Swede carrying a feather to my res...what a story huh! To hand it to our White Buffalo calf keeper! Now, that made them famous, like saying look at us, the White people, who infiltrated the Cheyenne River. I hate to see what would happen if they gave her a turkey feather! Where might she travel...to the country Turkey? Maybe! All I can say is--go see the movie.
Jerry Clown
read Carole Quattro Levine's article
read other comments about "Spirits for Sale"

Native American Television

At last! At last! At last! I want to thank the author for bringing us this news of a national native television station in the USA. My every visit to Canada has always included ample hours to watch APTN, Aboriginal People's Television Network, which has been around for decades! It has it all: news from the people's communities, national news impacting the First Nations, excellent, even brilliant children's programming with world class animation, movies, fitness shows, cooking, interviews on urgent issues of concern to native people, etc. etc, etc. Every such visit ends with a return to the USA and "desert wasteland" TV. Native issues NEVER make a spot on CNN or any other news program. Remember, even non-native people will watch the Native American Television programming. The general American public just might learn a little more about how we really live, who we really are and what we are thinking about and why. Hooray!

Rosalie Jones

read Carol Quattro Levine's article

Soothing the Raging Beast: Jazz as Theater

Absolutely love the page opener with the montage of moving photos and the jazz playing! Veeerrry classy! I am the partner who accompanied Mr. Bobkoff to the Wild Magnolias blowout at Harro Ballroom. Being Native American myself, I felt it was an excellent opportunity for me to finally see the "Mardi Gras" Indians. I knew it would be a mix of influences, but it proved to be pure theater, as the author so expertly describes.This phantasmagoria is an excellent example of a kind of intercontinental cultural diaspora: when displaced peoples loose the homeland moorings, adaptability attaches itself to survival. On the way out, the lead "Spy Boy" autographed the CD I bought while I commented admiringly on the beadwork on his "outfit". Glancing behind him, however, I saw his feathered headdress lying unceremoniously on the floor. A Native American dancer would never let those feathers touch the floor. So much for authenticity. In terms of survival, however, perhaps he was the one who was admiring us, by way of imitation, after all. The "good time" became a sobering insight.

Rosalie Jones

read Ned Bobkoff's article

Earth, Air, Fire, Water by Ned Bobkoff

Ned Bobkoff's deep humanity and theatrical intelligence illuminate the essential elements of this production. Although I have not seen the performance - and travel distance makes it impossible - I can almost taste it from Ned's passionate description and his inevitable kindness and understanding of theatrical performance art. Highly recommended!

Bill Bailey

read Ned Bobkoff's article

Earth, Water, Wind, Fire

A work of uplifting beauty! Kudos to Rosalie Jones for her spectacular vision and to Ned Bobkoff for transmitting the sensation to Scene4 readers.

Arthur Kanegis

read Ned Bobkoff's article

...and check the Archives for more of his articles!

Earth Wind Fire Water

Thank you Ned for writing another interesting and enlightening article. Highly recommended.

James Dimelow

read Ned Bobkoff's article

Daystar's "Dancing In The Grass"

Although the Daystar performance of "Dancing in the Grass" was performed indoors at Nazareth College, because of the threat of rain, it was successful nonetheless. "Wolf", a Daystar transformational work highlighting the natural connection between the human and the animal world, was danced with exceptional dramatic effect by Daniel Fetecua of the Jose Limon company. The suggestive ambiance of haunting Native American music with a solid rhythmic ambiance, coupled with multifaceted changes from one state of being to another, captivated and held firm the metaphysical construct of Native American beliefs that we are all one under the sun.

Ned Bobkoff

read about it in Que Pasa

SS. Burrus

SS.Burrus is one of those hidden treasures in American art and especially in Native American art. She's probably better known in other parts of the world than she is here in her Native land. Thank you much for displaying her beauty.

M. Rindasas

see SS. Burrus' painting

TransMigration: Dancing The Extreme Vision

A real pleasure to read this insightful and descriptive article by a choreographer and dancer of the stature of Ms Jones. I felt as if I had been with her at the performance. And I was excited to learn of Santee Smith's work, and of the art and life of Norval Morisseau.

Gordon Magill

read Daystar/Rosalie Jones' article

Polynesian Black Hole

Thanks for continuing to show the beautiful art of SS. Burrus. Even though this rendering doesn't do her art justice, it's still beautiful. As a Native American and an artist, she is a treasure.

Martin Timerzcac

view SS. Burrus' art

Captain America

A Fever Dream is just that, a dream of fever. In this case it comes from a country founded on the blood of indigenous people, with an economy created on the backs of slaves, and perpetuated by that judeo-christian nightmare called Manifest destiny. We have what we have earned and deserve, don't you thinK?

Michael Aptrow

read Michael Bettencourt's column

About Native America

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to RECENT LETTERS in the Native America category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Music is the previous category.

Opera is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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