You are here

AIS 360 A: American Indians in Cinema

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
SMI 309
Joint Sections: 
C LIT 397 E
Jonathan Tomhave

Syllabus Description:

5.0 credits, October 1st, 2015; to December 14th, 2015

Meeting times: Monday and Thursdays (excluding holidays) 10:30 am to 12:20 pm

Location: Smith Hall, Room 309

Instructor: Jonathan S. Tomhave, PhD

Office: Padelford Hall, C-520

Office Hours: By appointment only

Email: (best way to reach me is via the class Canvas Website email as I have no office telephone).




The Portrayal of the American Indian in American Cinema is an interesting one. Depending upon the need, American Indians could become the “ignoble savage,” thoughtless, bloodthirsty savages mindlessly attacking peaceful settlers and wagon trains on the frontier. In other instances, American Indians could become the “noble savage,” proud, stoic warriors facing their inevitable doom or becoming a faithful sidekick for the White Heteronormal Male Hero. Or, in regards to Disney’s Pocahontas (1995), stand for environmentalism. However, the history of media production shows us that there have been and continues to be significant works made by native and non-native producers that admittedly, some are more successful than others, have played with, and challenge these notions. In this class, we will critically examine and survey a number of media productions from the silent era onward that have in some instances, have perpetuated these racist stereotypes, and others that have openingly challenged them.


“Much of what we assume about movies is off the mark. It’s time to redraw the map of movie history we have in our heads. It’s factually inaccurate, and racist by omission.” - Episode One, The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)




By the end of this class, you will come away with at least:


  • A better understanding of how the portrayals of many American Indians in American Cinema is problematic. This is due to the numerous and varying imaginings that dominant society requires American Indians to fulfill, and how both native and non-native filmmakers have perpetuated and challenged these imaginings.


Texts: Your assigned readings will be made available to you as downloads or links from the class web site either in the files section or on the online syllabus:



Here is the list of books that various articles have been incorporated into this class. By no means do you have to purchase these books for class, as the chapters used are posted on the class Canvas website.



Cell Phones: Due to the amount of materials we will be reading, watching, and discussing I request your attention. As a courtesy to your fellow classmates, myself, and to you, please either turn off your cell phone (preferred) prior to class. Or, have it on vibrate.


Ask yourself this, do you really need to be connected all the time? If you think about it, sometimes you do, other times, not so much.


Disability Accommodation: Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please provide me with the paperwork ASAP so that the accommodations as established in your document can be reasonably accommodated.


If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodation (conditions include, but are not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts). You are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s), and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.




All materials are to be submitted via the class Canvas website on the dates and times listed. Handouts and additional materials we be made available to you in order to provide assistance. Also, do not hesitate to ask questions in class, or if you are uncomfortable doing that, please send me an email.


What I am most interested in is your thoughts regarding on what is presented in class while incorporating what we have read and discussed both in and out of class:


  1. Notes from every media production screened, each worth up to 5 points each for a grand total of 95 points possible
  2. Online discussions of each media production screened, each worth up to 5 points each for a grand total of 95 points possible
  3. Write ups of the films, each worth up to 5 points each for a grand total of 5 points possible
  4. Critical responses to that week’s writings, each worth up to 5 points for a grand total of 55 points possible
  5. A final paper on a film of your choosing, worth up to 60 points. A handout explaining the parameters will be handed out on the third week of class


All assignments, with the exception of your final paper are due on Sundays by 9:00 pm via the class Canvas site. Your final paper is due the day of our scheduled final by 9:00 pm via the class Canvas site.


Total Points Possible = 400.0 points


Grading Scale:


4.0 to 3.9 = A

3.8 to 3.5 = A-

3.4 to 3.2 = B+

3.1 to 2.9 = B

2.8 to 2.5 = B-

2.4 to 2.2 = C+

2.1 to 1.9 = C

1.8 to 1.5 = C-

1.4 to 1.2 = D+

1.1 to 0.9 = D

0.8 to 0.7 = D- (Lowest possible passing grade)

0.6 to 0.0 = E (Academic failure, No Credit Earned)


All assignment dates are listed on the class Canvas web site and all late work will be marked down by 50%.


I reserve the right to amend and modify this syllabus and class as required.




Note, not all films listed here will be screened in their entirety. When this occurs, I will provide a plot synopsis of the missing scenes.


  • Week 01, 10-01-15
    • Thursday
      • Reading(s) and video(s) for this week
        • None
      • Introduction to the course
      • Going over the syllabus
      • Screening of selective scenes of The Searchers (1956) - 119 minutes. Discussion will commence on Tuesday with Dr. Tom Colonnese as our guest lecturer


  • The Searchers


  • White Fawn’s Devotion


  • Last of the Mohicans



    • Week 03, 10-13-15 & 10-15-15
      • Reading(s) and video(s) for the week’s class
        • Aleiss, chapter 01, Hollywood and the Silent American

  • The Daughter of Dawn


  • Nanook of the North


  • Tuesday
      • Screen and discuss, The Daughter of Dawn (1920) - 83 minutes
    • Thursday
      • Screen and discuss Nanook of the North (1922) - 79 minutes


    • Week 04, 10-20-15 & 10-22-15
      • Reading(s) and video(s) for this week’s class
        • Playing Indian, Introduction and Chapter 01
        • Aleiss, chapter 05, Red Becomes White

  • The Silent Enemy (1930)



    • Week 05, 10-27-15 & 10-29-15
      • Reading(s) and video(s) for this week’s class
        • Deloria, Introduction, Indians in Unexpected Places
        • Deloria, Representation, Indians in Unexpected Places

  • The Unforgiven


  • The Exiles



    • Week 06, 11-03-15 & 10-05-15
      • Reading(s) and video(s) for this week’s class

    • Little Big Man



      • Week 07, 11-10-15 & 11-12-15
        • Reading(s) and video(s) for this week’s class

      • Pocahontas


      • Cowboys and Aliens



        • Week 08, 11-17-15 & 11-19-15
          • Reading(s) and video(s) for this week’s class

        • Flags of Our Fathers



          • Week 09, 11-24-15 & 11-26-15
            • Reading(s) and video(s) for this week’s class

          • In the Blood


          • The 6th World



            • Week 10, 12-01-15 & 12-03-15
              • Reading(s) and video(s) for this week’s class

            • Smoke Signals


            • The Business of Fancydancing



              • Week 11, 12-08-15 & 12-10-15
                • Reading(s) and video(s) for this week’s class
                  • Aleiss, chapter 08, Beyond the Western
                  • Chavez, chapter 02, The White (sub)Conscience: If it’s Invisible. Then Racism No Longer Exist.

            • Winter in the Blood


            • The 1491s


                  • None
              • Tuesday
                • Screening and discussion, Winter in the Blood (2014) - 98 minutes
              • Thursday
                • Conclusion of discussion, Winter in the Blood (2014) & screening and discussion of the works of the 1491’s


            • Week 12, 12-14-15
              • Tuesday
                • Final paper due
            Catalog Description: 
            Studies representations of American Indians in American films from 1900 to present. Examines the foundations of American Indian stereotypes and how Hollywood helped create and perpetuate those stereotypes. Activities include reading critical materials, and viewing, discussing, and writing critically about films by non-Native directors.
            GE Requirements: 
            Diversity (DIV)
            Individuals and Societies (I&S)
            Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
            Last updated: 
            August 2, 2019 - 9:00pm