Movies: Cowboys VS. Aliens & Indians… Does it Really Matter? They’re All the Same Anyway, According to the New Movie.


Yesterday I wrote that I was sick of seemingly every new release movie these days incorporating aliens into their plotlines, none more so than the latest Jon Favreau effort, Cowboys & Aliens, starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.

I have no interest in seeing the film. Super 8, Thor and Green Lantern have taken up my alien quota for the year. So I can’t comment fully on the nature of the representation of Native Americans in Cowboys & Aliens, but I think the title and the trailer tell me pretty much all I need to know. I also did some sneaky spoiler reading, so I’ll put up *spoiler alert* where applicable.

Being of Native American heritage myself, my initial viewing of the trailer grated on me. Taking the place of “Indians” in the Western genre were “aliens”—other—, which Indigenous peoples have been seen as for centuries. At ComicCon, the creators and stars of the film defended it, saying that both are genres that have been “done to death”.

I wondered if I was the only one who read it this way, and came across this brilliant article from Ms. Magazine, which asserts that the aliens and the Indians are seen as “them”, versus “us”: the white male main characters of the film, Craig’s Jake Lonergan and Ford’s Colonel Woodrow Dollarhyde. Cowboys & Aliens goes on to further stereotype the members of the Apache tribe featured in the film into categories: “the good Native”, the “savage warrior” and the “exotic” “Indian princess”, played by Wilde.

Wilde’s Ella Swenson is revealed to not be of Native American heritage, but *SPOILER ALERT* descendent from the other “others” in the film. Further to the assertion that people who aren’t white are interchangeable, Swenson is still characterised as “exotic” and not from the world of Lonergan and Dollarhyde. They’re all the same right?

After all, the central premise of the movie is that the whites have already raped and pillaged the Native people of the land, so they need a new enemy. Why not do the same to the invaders?

I’d be interested to know what others’ think of the depictions of race (the Ms. article points out that given the film is set in Arizona, there is an absence of Latino characters), come Cowboys & Aliens’ release date in Australia on Thursday.

Related: Green Lantern Review.

Super 8 Review.

Thor Review.

Elsewhere: [Ms Magazine] White Cowboys & Alien Indians.

Images via IMDb.

2 thoughts on “Movies: Cowboys VS. Aliens & Indians… Does it Really Matter? They’re All the Same Anyway, According to the New Movie.

  1. Wouldnt be the first time aliens are used in science fiction as a metaphor for native Americans. Look at navi in avatar, Martians in futurama, reavers in joss whedons firefly/serenity. Personally I think this use of genre is were sci fi works best. Take real world issues put a twist, make people think about concepts they never would have. Now how the work is made and how it portrays the issue is up to the film makers them selves. But platinum studios who made the Hollywood treatment for this film are one big con artist of a company. I don’t want to give them a dollar any time soon.

  2. I actually went to the trouble of seeing the movie before proffering an opinion of it. I thought it had both good and bad elements in its representations of Native people.

    The bad was the trope of the Native sidekick and his white “boss” and their unequal-yet-acceptable because it’s touching relationship. The scene where the alien woman is reanimated takes place in a Native ceremony, which alludes to the trope of “Native magic” but is twisted around when we find out it emanated from her.

    There was some good though. A partnership is formed, however uneasy, that acknowledges cultural differences and historical war between the white and the Indians while still enabling them all to agree that the enemy of their enemy is their friend (for a time, anyway). This suggests, at its base, a common humanity. Also, the way the Native people fought wasn’t an imitation of the white people and their guns. They fought with Native instruments and with traditional Native strategy of the area (their strategy to gain higher ground) and on the whole they did as well if not better than the whites.

    So, it’s a bit more complex than the description of it here or on Ms. magazine. As I tell the crazy people who are convinced Harry Potter is about Satanism because they’ve heard other people talk about it, it is always, always valuable to watch something before you make an opinion of it from second-hand sources. You might not agree with the opinion I’ve given, but you’d have to watch the movie to actually find out.

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