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AIS 360 A: American Indians In Cinema

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 10:20am - 12:30pm
SIG 134
Jonathan Tomhave

Syllabus Description:

Summer 2015 AIS 360: Indians in Cinema

5 Credits, Session A, June 22nd to July 22nd

Meeting Times: Monday through Thursday 10:20 am to 12:30 pm

Location: Sieg Hall, Room 134

Instructor: Jonathan S. Tomhave, PhD

Office: Padelford Hall, C-520

Office Hours: Mondays 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (walk-in), or by appointment

Email: (best way to reach me is through our Canvas class site 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 be the ‘ignoble savage,’ thoughtless, bloodthirsty savages mindlessly attacking peaceful settlers and wagon trains on the frontier. In other instances, American Indians could be the ‘noble savage,’ proud, stoic warriors facing their inevitable doom or become a faithful sidekick for a White hero. Or, in regards to Disney’s Pocahontas, stand in 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 play with, and challenge these notions. In order to achieve this, we will critically examine and survey a number of media productions by both native and non-native producers and scholars from the silent era, to the modern era of social media.


“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 class, you will come away with at least:


  • A better understanding of how the portrayals of many American Indians in American Cinema is problematic due to the varying imaginings the American Public requires American Indians to fulfill, and how both native and non-native filmmakers have challenged this in both alternative and mainstream productions.


Texts: Your assigned readings will be available for you to download from the class web site: in the files section, or listed in the pages section, and posted in the syllabus.


Class Canvas Site URL:


Cell Phones: Due to the amount of material we will be reading, watching, and discussing I require your full attention. As a courtesy to your fellow classmates and myself all cell phones are to be turned off in class.


Disability Accommodation: Access and Accommodations: Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we discuss your needs for this course.


If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (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 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 will be made available to you to help you do the best job you can, and please, do not hesitate to ask questions in class or send a question via the Canvas email.


First off, I am interested in your critical thoughts regarding the materials and lectures presented in class. But like any other class, if you reference any materials outside of class, please be sure to properly cite them.


  1. Major reading discussion sheets, worth up to 5 points for the 1491 and Frozen in Time articles and 6 points for the Deloria ones, for a total of 40 points. Each major reading, i.e., The Atlantic article, 1491. The Playing Indian Introduction and Chapter One. Plus The indians in Unexpected Places Introduction and Representation part one and two. And finally, the Frozen in Time article. You will be provided with a form that will cover some of the major topics brought up in each article that will be discussed in class. You will turn in your typewritten notes on Canvas. SImple notes, page number references, your writing will vary.
  2. Notes from each media production screened, worth up to 7 points each for a total of 84 points starting with the Last of the Mohicans (1920), and concluding with Winter in the Blood (2013). You will turn in your type written notes on Canvas. Amount of writing will vary.
  3. Discussions on each media production screen, worth up to 7 points each, with a total of 84 points possible, starting with Last the the Mohicans (1920) and again, concluding with Winter in the Blood (2013).
  4. Final write ups of the films, worth up to 16 points each for a total of 192 points. Again, beginning with Last of the Mohicans (1920) and concluding with, Winter in the Blood (2013). These write ups must encapsulate the lectures and discussions in class, your media production notes, the readings, the discussion board, and your final thoughts on this. 500 words, max. Please be tight and concise.

Total Points Possible = 400 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 due dates are listed on the class Canvas website and all unexcused late work be marked down by 50%.


Note: I reserve the right to amend and modify this syllabus and class as needed.


Class Schedule




  • Week 03, 07-06-15 to 07-09-15: Contemporary Mainstream American Cinema


  • Week 04, 07-13-15 to 07-16-15: American Indians and Science Fiction
    • Monday:
      • Readings for this week’s discussion(available in the files page) : Indians in Unexpected Places: Representation part 02, and The “Frozen in Time” Article.
    • Tuesday:
      • Screening and discussion: In the Blood, an Outer Limits Episode (2001)
    • Wednesday:
    • Thursday:
      • Screening and discussion: The 6th World (2012)



Additional Details:

This class will critically examine how American Indians have been presented in various media productions by both native and non-native media producers.

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: 
December 8, 2017 - 3:22pm