contributed by Melissa Lucas, senior staff writer
There’s no arguing that the treatment of Native Americans during our nation’s formative years was abysmal. Tragedy after bloody tragedy fill history books covering this period. As time has passed and perspective gained, there isn’t too much about this portion of our history that modern Americans are proud of. Which is why there aren’t too many well-made, accurate American Indian War movies that also offer entertainment value. But, we’ve found a few that portray the Indian vs. American wars and their aftermath with the reverence they deserve. Here are eight Native American war movies you’ll want to add to your Netflix queue.
This film representation of life on the New York Frontier during the 1700’s is also included in our list of the best movies about the American Revolution. When a family leaves their comfortable lives in the city to settle on the Frontier at the start of the Revolution, they do so with hopes of a better life. As the war gains strength, British and Indian armies attack their land, and the families are forced to flee and seek refuge with a wealthy widow. Drums along the Mohawk might not be the most accurate of American Indian war movies, but it paints an accurate picture of circumstances in which many settlers found themselves during the American Indian Wars.
Legends, and sometimes myths, from the life of famous frontiersman Davy Crockett are depicted in this feature film, which is actually a combination of several Disney television episodes. Films produced earlier in the 20th century are notorious for their skewed perspectives of the American Indian wars, villainizing Native Americans and idolizing those who terrorized them. Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier takes a different approach. Although still skewed, this particular story doesn’t go out of its way to portray Native Americans as the antagonists. On the contrary, Davy Crockett is known as a champion of these people, making this one of the best options for American Indian war films produced before the 1980’s.
Perhaps one of the most well-known and beautifully directed films about the post-American Indian wars period, Dances with Wolves features a former Civil War hero who finds himself falling in love with the ways of a local Lakota tribe. The film debuted in 1990 to praise from critics, eventually earning 12 Academy Award nominations and seven wins, including best picture and best director. It’s also been credited as a major influence for the revitalization of the Hollywood western film drama, which is when truer tales this era began to emerge.
Another film based on a novel depicting the final days of the Indian wars in America, the Last of the Mohicans, was successful in respectfully portraying the lives of those belonging to Native American tribes. Daniel Day Lewis plays Nathaniel “Hawkeye” Poe, a white youth taken in the mid 1700’s and raised by the last chief of the Mohawk Tribe, Chingachgook. It is through the perspective of Hawkeye that we learn what life for Native Americans was like during the French and Indian War.
After agreeing to settle on a U.S. reservation, Apache Chief Geronimo becomes restless and frustrated by promises that never come to fruition. This leads to the creation of his famous band of warriors that spent years reclaiming what was rightfully theirs. Geronimo: An American Legend tells the story not just of this notorious battle chief, but of the years the U.S. spent chasing him around the country – years during which the simple mention of this Apache’s name struck fear into white settlers.
Vigo Mortenson stars in this film about the far-reaching effects of the American Indian Wars. Hidalgo is different than other movies portraying true stories about Native Americans. After the massacre that was the Battle of Wounded Knee, cowboy Frank Hopkins joins a traveling Wild West show as a horse racer and stuntman. When an Arabian sheikh sees the act and dares Hopkins to enter a horse race across the Arab deserts, he can’t say no. He and his trusty horse, Hidalgo, face challenge after challenge in this classic underdog tale, based on a true story.
This made for TV film was adapted from the 1970 book of the same name by Dee Brown. Set in the late 1800’s, not long after the U.S. Army was defeated at the Battle of Little Bighorn, five main characters each fight their own wars in an attempt to end the horrific treatment of Native Americans. The controversial Dawes Act disrupted the traditional life, culture, and unity of tribes across the country, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee tells the story of its fallout. The film won 6 Primetime Emmys in 2008, and boasts a cast of well-known actors including Adam Beach, Aiden Quinn and Anna Pacquin.
After twenty years of fighting the Apache, Cheyenne and Comanche, a U.S. Calvary Captain is given his final mission before retirement: escort a Cheyenne Chief to the safety of a Montana reservation. The gorgeous setting and captivating characters make the film, which is more of a drama than typical action film, and more of a post-war reflection than typical war movie. The main character, captain Joseph Blocker, has watched his friends and comrades die at the hands of his American Indian rivals, making this final mission one of his most challenging. Hostiles is a post American Indian War movie that is totally underrated, and definitely worth the watch.
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