I’m sorry, readers and movie goers. I really don’t like to rain on anyone’s parade. But The Revenant is just not very endearing to indigenous peoples.
Like many indigenous people, I was so excited to go see The Revenant. Recently, my wife and I had a chance to spend some time with Duane Howard, the hard working Nuu-chah-nulth actor and stuntman who stars in the Oscar-winning film. He spoke about his experiences acting in the movie, and his interactions with mega-star Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio befriended a few First Nations people during it’s filming.
DiCaprio’s shout-out during the Golden Globes was heart-felt and honourable. He said: “I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognized your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”
Finally, we found ourselves an outspoken hero in Hollywood! Someone who can replace the voice and noble action of the Late Marlon Brando, another superstar who was a friend to First Nations people.
The Revenant stars a whole bunch of indigenous actors, including Melaw Nakehk’o, Grace Dove, Isaiah Tootoosis and Forrest Goodluck. In a year where the Academy Awards was being criticized for it’s lack of inclusion, an indigenous cast like this one was to my liking.
Not to mention, Leo is one of my favourite actors, playing the lead in my favourite movie of all time, Titanic. Needless to say, I had a lot of great expectations and was so excited to see this movie.
The Revenant is beautifully shot. It had incredible acting. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Best Actor Oscar was well earned. As was Tom Hardy’s Oscar nomination. It is a gripping, yet dark story.
But did The Revenant showcase indigenous people and accurately portray our culture? Did it make me proud to be Anishinaabe? I’m afraid not.
The first thing it did was showcase the stereotypical period violence doled out by indigenous people. It showed how eager our people were to wage war against non-native interlopers. There were plenty of arrows, brutal beatings and even some scalping. All in the first ten minutes of the film.
Leo’s character, Hugh Glass, is portrayed as a tortured and weathered guide who brings along his half-Pawnee son on the doomed fur trade adventure. The son, played by Forrest Goodluck, had the best potential for a good role in the film. That is until he is killed in the first third of the movie. But not before Leo’s character slaps the boy around making sure he knows where his place is among the filth around him.
Hugh and his son do speak Pawnee in the film. But not enough for the audience to embrace and appreciate any actual indigenous culture.
I was anxiously awaiting to see the part of Elk Dog, portrayed by Duane Howard. Surely, he would redeem the slow start of this indigenous anthology I was expecting.
Elk Dog is the leader of the band of warriors. Occasionally, he rides up on horseback overseeing the plundering and violence. But I can’t recall if he had any worthwhile dialogue. Apparently, the motivation for his vengeance is the kidnapping of his daughter by another group of fur traders. Alas, these Indians are on the warpath, just like other Indians in many a historical western. There is nothing really for First Nations people to latch onto or be proud of from Elk Dog and his men.
Ironically, my second favourite movie of all time is Dances With Wolves. Costner’s story is also guilty of furthering violent stereotypes. Sure, it’s ripe with the noble, white saviour theme. But it also shows, quite eloquently, the beauty and compassion of Lakota family and culture.
Such is not the case with The Revenant. In fact, there is nothing appreciably redeeming about the motivation of these characters nor their story. This movie is about vengeance and violence, plain and simple.
Between The Revenant, and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, there are 5 hours and 43 minutes of spilling blood and guts. But at least Quentin chose not to portray the spilling of any First Nations blood in his movie.