Columnist Joe Queenan calls them "Three Cheers for Whitey" movies; that is, those films where a brave and wise and selfless Caucasian—usually a fabulously good looking Caucasian—swoops in to save the hapless Black folks whether they are American (Mississippi Burning, A Time to Kill, Glory Road, Finding Forrester)—to "Bwana" films such as Tarzan and more recently, The Constant Gardener and The Interpreter. Just released, we can add Hilary Swank's heroic turn for Latino and Black teens in Freedom Writers.
White hope lives on in Hollywood, and not just for African Americans and Latinos. Indians have long been saved by palefaces. Funny thing is, most Natives don't seem to know many Caucasians who have. No matter. Don't confuse us with the facts.
The mystique of the heroic paleface is alive and well in the hearts and minds of Hollywood, and sadly, the viewing public. As Vine Deloria said in his book, Custer Died for Your Sins, "…being an Indian, people are always interested in you and your 'plight.' Other groups have difficulties, predicaments, quandaries, problems, or troubles…We Indians have a 'plight'."
No worries, my Native friends. Paleface to the rescue. And I'm not talking about those painfully offensive movies of yore with cheap wigs on Greek dudes speaking Pidgin English. I'm talking about movies where White folks care. About your "plight."
Let's fast forward…to about 1970. As much as I love Little Big Man—a White guy is the hero. Likewise, in Tell them Willie Boy is Here, Robert Redford is concerned about the "plight" of Paiute Willie, played by Robert Blake, who ain't Indian at all.
Of course, we mustn't neglect the always-on-cable-classic-movie, Dances with Wolves; Kevin Costner as the Great White Savior rolling in the tipi with his Caucasian squeeze raised as Lakota. (Forget the fact that she is in desperate need of a comb and speech therapy.) As John Dunbar, not only does Costner relate to the "plight" of his Lakota hosts, he becomes ONE of them!!! In fact, he's a better Indian than Graham Greene; but that's not surprising since Greene is Canadian and we ALL know that they aren't real Indians, right?
Yeah, yeah—I hear ya. 1990 was long, long ago and we are in a new age, the millennium; the time of enlightenment. Today, the movie-making moguls luuuuve and respect Natives because they are "progressive" folks who save their contempt for other White Americans. They would never, ever dis' an Indian. In fact, they care. About the "plight" of Native America.
That's why Hollywood is still saving Natives. Because they care. Want a recent example? What would've happened to poor ol' Thunder Heart Woman if not for the kindly intervention of Jacob Wheeler in the 2005 miniseries, Into the West? Thank Gawwwd, Jacob cared. About her "plight."
The miniseries Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, based on the book by Dee Brown, just completed filming and will air on HBO next year. It's about the "plight" of Indians and boasts an all-star Native cast including August Schellenberg and Adam Beach. The star? Aidan Quinn.
Paleface to the rescue. Again.