Date of Graduation

12-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies

Advisor

Sean K. Teuton

Committee Member

Frank M. Scheide

Second Committee Member

Kay A. Yandell

Keywords

Film, Gender, Masculinity, Native American

Abstract

In this work, I examine representation of Native American masculinity in the American film industry. The American film industry began just over a century ago, and one of its earliest subjects was the Native American. Throughout its history, the American film industry has maintained a steady trajectory of exploitation and erasure of Native American men and their subsequent masculine qualities. While there are notable historical outliers and critical exceptions in the 21st century, Native American men in film have been continually reduced to corpses, devoid of significant social presence, and denied meaningful explorations of their sexuality and interpersonal identity. The representations of Native Americans in film have received a moderate amount of a critical attention, but rarely are films analyzed for their specific treatment of men and their masculinity. This work seeks to fill this analytical space by employing a combination of psychoanalytical theory and postcolonial criticism to isolate key moments of erasure, exploitation, and recovery in select films over the last century. First, we will look at the early attempts at reducing the Native American man to an abject corpse, absent any complex characterization and examine the evolution of this corpse into recent films that have given the body new life and vibrancy while still acknowledging the reality of mortality. Second, we will look at the historical complications of presenting the Native American as a socially situated figure capable of heroism and examine the unique demands of culture heroes and modern Native American spaces. Finally, we will look at treatment of Native American sexuality as one of many modes of interpersonal identity that has been either been erased or treated with hostility in early treatments, but which is now finding new modes of expression and subversion in recent films. Ultimately, this work concludes that the film industry has the power to revitalize Native American representation under the right conditions, despites its problematic history.

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