By Michelle H. Raheja
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Additional info for Reservation Reelism: Redfacing, Visual Sovereignty, and Representations of Native Americans in Film
Through intervention in the production side of film representations of Native peoples in particular, such as the construction of identities, political activism, and language preservation, Native entertainers engaged the place of Indigenous communities in popular culture. Native peoples in the pre– and 31 Toward a Genealogy of Indigenous Film Theory post–studio system shaped visual modes of sovereignty to reflect Indigenous knowledges through these activities. Native American actors and filmmakers expressed visual sovereignty by creating performances of the “Indian” for various reasons, such as the search for economic opportunities to alleviate poverty, provide a decent living for their families, and escape oppressive conditions on their own reservations.
Whether or not the petition reached its intended audience, Native Americans since the inception of the motion picture industry — from spectators to filmmakers — have found various ways of counting coup on Indian representations and rendering these images acceptable on their own terms. Life on the Virtual Reservation Native American media-makers and spectators have enacted agency in Hollywood through functioning as trickster figures and transforming their experiences with visual media into Indigenous epistemes, as Standing Bear and the Anishinabe delegation demonstrate by counting coup on film stereotypes of Indians.
Yet we can still attempt to consider how cinematic images structured their experiences in order to explain cinema’s place of importance among Native communities and the ways in which Hollywood was influenced by Native Americans. Through subtle forms of aesthetic diplomacy, the many Native American actors who played racialized roles in the first half of the twentieth century and the spectators who read their “inferences” performed an important function by attempting to convince directors and production agents to alter aspects of film scripts to conform more closely to early twentieth-century Native American sensibilities.