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