Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Now online: Native Americans in Film

Professor Richard King is teaching his Native Americans in Film course online this fall.

Boy Scouts battle Indians over a hidden treasure in the 1939 film Scouts to the Rescue. The Indians speak perfect English – if you play the film backward. The director reversed the footage of Native American dialogue, creating a new language that lip-syncs with the actors.
Such blatant cultural indifference hasn’t receded into the past, said Professor Richard King, chair of WSU’s Comparative Ethnic Studies Department. It’s just become more subtle.
More...Dances with Wolves ends with the Sioux being crushed and fading into history. Pocohontas ends with her sacrificing herself for English society. Last of the Mohicans is about the noble savage that can’t survive in civilization,” said King, who this fall is teaching a new online course, CES 379: Native Americans in Film. “If it seems inevitable that they’re doomed to pass underneath the treads of civilization, then we don’t feel quite so bad about what actually happened.”
This sense of manifest destiny pervades many films, King said. Students in the three-credit course will analyze those movies, and examine the role Native Americans played as writers, directors, and actors. The course includes threaded discussions and group projects. “I have used student blogging before,” King said, “and I found the new media to be an excellent space for more open expression and deeper exploration.”
Going online created some copyright issues, said Distance Degree Programs instructional designer Rebecca Van de Vord. “There are many movies we can’t put online without paying copyright fees, which get passed onto the students,” she said.
The solution was two-fold, she said. Students will rent some movies – Dance with Wolves, Smoke Signals, for example. Other movies are in the public domain, and can be viewed online for free – White Fawn’s Devotion, for example, and Battle of Elderbush Gulch.
“It was a pretty seamless transition” to move the course online, King said. “Rebecca was very good at keeping me on task.”
King brings extensive expertise to the course, as evidenced by his 35-page curriculum vitae. His research into the racial politics of culture has appeared a variety of journals, and he is the author or editor of several books, including Team Spirits: The Native American Mascot Controversy and Postcolonial America. He recently completed Native American Athletes in Sport and Society and The Encyclopedia of Native Americans and Sport.
“As a child, I was a YMCA Indian Guide and Boy Scout,” King said. “I played cowboys and Indians, and rooted for the Kansas City Chiefs.” He became interested Native American issues in high school, when he learned about Leonard Peltier and the American Indian Movement. King went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas.
“It was not until graduate school at the University of Illinois, home of the Fighting Illini and Chief Illiniwek, that I began to come to terms with the ways in which Euro-Americans misinterpreted indigenous peoples,” he said.
“It became a passion that has expanded past the controversy over Native American mascots to include such issues as the debate over squaw place names, indigenous rap music, and the distinct ways that whiteness, blackness, and Indianness are given expression in sports.”

--Richard H. Miller/CDPE

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