History - Daan Muller by decree


									Daan Muller
History 202
Hollywood -vs- history
Dancing With Wolves
Monday 16, 2004

                         The Historical Values of Hollywood Films

As society presses forward Hollywood expands its box office hits by the hundreds. Every

year we see new movies ranging from comedy, suspense, documentaries, action, and

drama. Every once and a while Hollywood puts together a movie that is so moving that it

must be based on historical facts, but the real question is, how accurate are the historical

facts that are used in the movie. Does Hollywood take pride in understanding the past,

learning about what really happened, and being able to use the hard evidence of history in

the movie? I decided to try this project of Hollywood versus History on an Emmy

winning movie, Dancing with Wolves. As an overview, Dancing With Wolves came to

the sliver screen in mid 1990, with box office hit, Kevin Costner.

The original dancing with Wolves was produced first as a novel. This novel written by

Michael Blake was based on the journal writings of a US Union Soldier who was

stationed out west. However the novelist wrote about the Cheyenne Indians rather than

the Sioux or the Pawnee. Costner reviewed the epic novel and too it upon him self to

rewrite the novel to be based on more historic facts. Costner's view point of the American

versus Indian War was his choice. The Sioux Indians were his primary target of who he

wanted to base the movie about. After finalizing the new scripture, to include many roles

by native Sioux Indians, he started filming. However this came only after Costner spent
nearly 2 years of time researching events, historical dates, and true actions of the past

slaughtering of the Indians. In the long run the movie is based on journals with the

intermediary of a book to guide the way. (4)

A background check of Kevin Costner shows his devotion to this Emmy nominated

movie. Coster the... actor, director, producer, and scriptwriter... played a role of John J.

Dunbar. A decorated Union Soldier at the end of the Civil War. Per his request he is

station far beyond the span of the American civilization of the present time… The

Frontier. Immediately he is labeled as an Indian fighter and given his post… Fort

Sedgwick. He finds this place to be an abandoned dump, deserted beyond mile, a barren

environment that could make anyone unhappy. John Dunbar cleans the camp up, rebuilds

the horse pens, and reestablishes a presence of the Union Army. (3)

Immediately the historical side takes in to play. The flag John Dunbar raises at the Fort

was indeed American, but the wrong flag. He raises the American flag of the present day,

the stars and stripes (50stars) from what I understand of history, this movie took place in

the 1870’s. The fort he was stationed in was indeed a true resemblance of Fort Sedgwick.

As you can view it in the movie, the fort... lay on the creek bed, overrun by unkempt

grass and the carcasses of deer by the ruthless un-rigors soldiers who abandoned this

land. The fort lay open in the rolling field of Nebraska. After looking up the history of the

fort... as I read the detailed script given to me by the American Encyclopedia, goose

bumps sprung off my arm to the accuracy the movie portrays to the real description of the

horrid arrogance of the American fort. (1)(2)
As you can see my bias is boosted by the research not only I did, but Kevin Costner did

as well. Why did Costner make this movie? The details are vague, but my theory goes as

followed... after the visual descriptions provided by WebPages, and stale brittle pages of

the encyclopedia at the basement of the library; how could you not make a movie about

this subject. With the given talents of Costner he shows the true real stories of the

massacres of the Indians. Immediately "Only good Indian is a dead Indian" flashes in to

your mind like a war epic; the nightmares of Indians slaughtering families as you sleep,

but was this only figments of the peoples imagination? This section of history is

unrecorded. American Soldiers given command by the general himself to go erase the

existence of Indians and their unorthodox methods. Costner understand the shame we

brought to America in the partial genocide of the American Indians. This is why he takes

this beautiful story and produces a movie on the other aspect of the Indians.

This proves another point... The past Indian movies were based on Cowboys and Indians

and 100% of the time Cowboys win. The western movies of the 50's brainwashed us to

believe that the Cowboys of west were the heroes in killing and winning battles with the

Indians. And you will be surprised how many people still are under the influence that the

Cowboy (Clint Eastwood) saved us from the savages. A study shows that near 1/10th

that’s 10% of the country in the 2000 census study shows that Americans don't even

understand their own history.

Bias out of the way we focus on the attire of the 1870's from the common folk, Soldiers
to the Indian chief. Researching the Union Army attire, Costner looks like he found an

authentic uniform. The dress he wears throughout the movie matches in shear precision to

what was really worn in the 1870's. This goes with the Indians attire as well; the feathers,

head dress, chest beads and more were historically accurate.

The Indians were semi-nomadic people with different camps depending on the time of

the year. A summer camp was based in the Southern border of South Dakota; a camp that

portrays warmth, family, and harmony. The camp works as the industrial giants of the

time did, only to a different beat. The methods in which the Indians used were to

maintain a balance of nature and life. They harvested food, farmed, and ran a near

production line that produced everything the Indians would ever need to survive. The

Indians were a fully self sufficient tribe of people who could do everything a small city

could, but with out the politics and the corruption of people. The winter camp only

briefly shown in the ending of the movie portrayed to me a more difficult environment in

which they lived. I think Hollywood choose this place to show the ultimate doom of the

poor tribe, a washed out frozen forest of peace. I say peace for the Indians never showed

fear, even with in the most unreliable circumstances their passion for calmness and inner

peace always shines like the sun in a minifying glass. This is fairly true of the tribe. The

Sioux Indians were not savages; they were a tribe of honor and passion for the earth.

What Costner does with Hollywood is to show the different Indians in a black and white

contrast. Just as the contrast between the Soldiers and the Indians or the Whiteman and

the Negro during the horrible days of slavery. The Pawnee Indians were the Indians we
saw in the John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. These Indians were indeed savages

with an extreme lack of understanding, the fear was shown by the blunt hammering of the

Whiteman’s skull. Hollywood does a fabulous job creating a negative bias about the

"Indians" (for at this time we only know of one tribe, so we assume all of the Indians).

Immediately we feel the anger the Whiteman feels about them, blood boils over the edge

and the stereotype begins that plagues the world with a black heart of steel. Cold bitter

and now showing a lack of understanding and intelligence the American soldiers are sent

to eliminate the threat of the Indians. However these waves of attacks from the soldiers

did not come for any reasoning. The Indians crossed the Great Plains would attack

construction parties who were building the transcontinental railroad. "They tore up the

rails and burned the telegraph poles that went along side the tracks they called The Iron

Snake"(3) But were we failed, we forgot to understand the philosophy of the Indian

lifestyle. They did not believe in ownership in accordance to land and nature, however

the land America was using for the railroad was territory the Indians used to graze, track

buffalo and more. Thus waves of attacks and rebellion from the Indians took place. (5)

The Buffalo was an important source of food, warmth, shelter, and weapons for the

Indians. They did not waste a single thing, not a single bone, or bit of flesh in which the

buffalo provided for the Indians. Dunbar in parts of the movie goes to the Indian camp to

point out the tracking of the buffalo. Over night he is a hero, but only to find the buffalo

shot, killed and skinned only for their hide. As you watch this part, your heart sinks to the

lowest level of remorse and shame. To slaughter an animal purely for the hide and

leaving the corpse to rot in the sun baked plains. The truth was Americans did not have
any sense of moral values. We just did not care for the outcome of the future, nor did we

think ahead to what would happen if out events continue. The Indians had a very strong

sense of natural value, as well as moral respect for all natures belongs, including fellow

tribesmen. But their value towards the Whiteman was fading and fading fast.

The movie shows the journey of Dunbar, this decorated soldier who starts out just as

another American soldier of the time. Ignorant of the value or history of the Indians, he

does not know anything other than the orders given to him. But with rank sometimes

comes intelligence. Dunbar proved himself a noble moral man when he does no shoot

when the Indians come to steal his horse. "Whiteman does not deserve horse" states the

Indian as he rides of with the horse. Although the horse (sisco) returns after the Indians

can not control the horse. Dunbar rides out to patrol the open plains and runs into the

woman known as "Stands with Fist" a white woman taken in by the Indians after her

family was brutally slaughtered by the Pawnee's. History and Hollywood failed to link

the woman to the Sioux Indians, or why she was let go by the Pawnee's. This is where

Hollywood takes major role in the movie, but remember that most of the movie is based

on a journal with the intermediary of a book. After Dunbar is brought into the camp and

is known as a friend of the Indian. Dunbar falls in love with Stands with Fist and this is

where the love story takes a major role of the movie. The love between the two links the

rest of the movie together, His love to her, gives Dunbar a new name... Dances with

Wolves, and now given status as an Indian. It’s hard to find facts on such a story as this

one of love. My opinion is with the journal scriptures, it honestly could have happened,

but historically I could not find facts of a union soldier abandoning his post and labeled
as a traitor to the Union Army. But Hollywood knows we are all suckers for a good love

story. Even Hollywood poked at this, for in the journal the page that states "I love Stands

with Fist" was ripped out and used as a toiletry device for a fowl soldier who can't read.

Going back to the linkage between the Whiteman and the Indian, Dunbar goes back to the

fort to only find capture by the army he descended from. The fort now a well established

post flocking with near 100 men or more. Dunbar shows up in Indian attire and brought

in for questioning. This is an important scene for this is where an American becomes a

person of value, morale, and true integrity for who he really is. He states him self as

Dancing with Wolves. Captured and strapped to a wagon to be sent back to Fort Hayes

for hanging. The Sioux Indians sense a fowl error with Dancing with Wolves. They go

back to the fort to find that he was indeed in trouble. Immediately a battle between the

Indians and the soldiers sprawls in to a battle for freedom. It is a small 15 minute victory

for the Indians to release the captured Dancing with Wolves. However in a historical

basis this never happened, Hollywood made and developed the scene up. This was near

controversial for the American soldiers lost... It was a travesty to show a movie in which

“savages” defeated the “Indian Fighters” in a battle, this has never displayed in the

theaters. John Wayne movies corrupted the minds of the people, making people believe

that Indians are the problem. Costner had at this point already succeeded with his point of

the suffrage of the Indians. We as the view are already on the Indian side... will watching

I gain trust in the tribe, and feel a close kinship with them. At this point Hollywood and

Costner succeeded, Costner wanted his point to come across and show the senseless

slaughtering of the Indians, while Hollywood has you captivated in a world of a fairy

Conclusion of the movie shows Dunbar, now known only as Dances with Wolves getting

ready to leave camp with Stand with Fist, for he is still known as a traitor of the Union

Army as he leaves the Sioux Indians feel the love that was once hatred turned to brotherly

love and happiness. As he is leaving the scene flips to the Army panning through the

woods with horses, gear, and Pawnee trackers. Historically if the soldiers could confine

in not killing the Indian, they would accept trackers from tribes, to help hunt other tribes.

Here we see the end of the movie, but the way Hollywood portrays the ending as the

army and the tracker could not keep up with the Sioux is only a matter of a duck hunt.

Sooner or later they will be found and caught, then savagely beaten and slaughtered to

death. The credits conclude that only a mere 13 years later the majority of the Indian

tribes have been murdered in the mass genocide.

History versus Hollywood, the famous comparison and contrast assignment of the

historical period we are encountering today. Yet everyday we progress more and more

historical evidence arises bring new light to past mysteries or corrupt records. Who

knows 10 years from now, there will be more information available about the research of

Indians and the Battles the had to endure in complete failure. As Dancing with Wolves,

fades to black and the credits role, it also ends a time period that the Americans should be

ashamed of. This period of slaughter and murder came at what price? A railroad and land

that was un-farmable at the time. Yet we take it, for that was the American Custom of the

time. It is important to understand the historical values that movies use to help us lead a
more fulfilling respectful life. It is Hollywood’s job to make the movie appealing to

people, for all Hollywood really cares about is the box office attendance. But it is nice to

see that Hollywood does have a soft spot for history, for Hollywood has turned out

movies that symbolize not only American history as well as other developing nations.

However not all movies are as accurate as Dancing with Wolves; this should not stop us

from wanting to understand more of what went on during the period Hollywood is

filming about. From my personal experience I was able to understand the 2 sided story of

the America Indian struggle. Not always do we learn everything from one text book or a

single lecture about the subject and as history precedes it self, the facts are true, and the

documents are real, but unless you understand who, when, or more importantly why,

there is no point in learning history.
Work Cited

(1) Encyclopedia
(2) Fort Sedgwick - http://www.over-land.com/ftsedgwick.html
(3) Internet Movie Database - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099348/
- provides description, as well as all the actors involved in the movie
(4) Novel description and Author -
(5) Biography of America Chapter 16 – The West

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