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Rebelling Against Stereotypes: Native American Film

ENGL 282.401
TR 12-1:30

This course will engage a wide variety of “media” including film, documentaries, web-based digital videos, and visits from an Ojibwe and Cherokee storyteller.  These works will be examined from the perspective of cinema studies, literature, history, and anthropology.  


We will begin by tracing the historical origins of pervasive stereotypes that continue to haunt Hollywood films.  The class will, however, move far beyond such negative images to detailed discussions of how Native Americans have taken over the means of production to give radically new meanings to the phrase “Native American Films.”  The Ojibwe and Cherokee storytellers, for example, will discuss on-going projects in partnership with Penn to utilize digital technology to retell tribal histories from a Native American perspective.

Films will cover a wide range of history from the silent film The Vanishing American (1925) to notable westerns like John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).  The modern turn to a more sympathetic treatment of Native American culture will be shown in Little Big Man (1970).  The next stage of development, wherein Native actors and directors gained a greater degree of creative control, will be examined in films like Powwow Highway (1989) and Smoke Signals (1998).  The incorporation of indigenous storytelling techniques and its international scope will be exhibited in Fast Runner (2002) and Whale Rider (2003).  Native American documentaries and web-based projects will conclude the semester, with the work of Penn students and of Digital Partnerships with Native American Communities being featured.

Students will be asked to write one 5 page paper and two 7-10 page papers.  Creativity will be strongly encouraged, such that “papers” may include multi-media web-based presentations, screenplays or analytical essays.

fulfills requirements
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major