From fake to reel

The Weisman screens “Reel Injun,” a documentary about Native American representations in film.

by Danylo Loutchko

Missy Whiteman believes film is powerful medium, as it’s able either to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about her fellow Native community or help dismantle them.
The documentary “Reel Injun” attempts to do the latter by putting film history and modern perspectives in dialogue with one another. The film shows Friday at Weisman, followed by a conversation with Whiteman, filmmaker and indigenous media advocate. 
Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond created “Reel Injun” in 2009. The film shows interviews with famous Native and non-native directors and actors, interspersed with film clips portraying First Nation people from silent era Hollywood to today.
“We’re having a community screening of this film for education,” Whiteman said. “But also because it’s a really good way to talk about some of the historical events that have occurred and how they’ve been portrayed in mainstream media and what’s going on today with Native film.”
WAM Collective, a University student group that works with Weisman to create outreach events associated with current exhibitions, organized the screening and conversation for “Reel Injun.”
The event is in conjunction with the art museum’s Andy Warhol exhibit, “Cowboys and Indians,” which shows until July 31.
“When Warhol was creating the ‘Cowboys and Indians’ portfolio, he was interested in the history of the [American] West and the way that the general American population perceives the cowboys and Indians and how that differs and compares to the truth and the reality of what happened historically,” said Elise Armani, a junior art student and officer in the WAM Collective. 
The event connects to discussions of Native representation not only in media and film in general but also at the Weisman and the University in particular. 
“We’ve been looking for connections with all of our exhibitions to bring in artists of color to lead discussions and activities,” Armani said. “Historically, our main audience is predominantly white students, and we are trying to figure out why that is and trying to come up with ways that we can change that.”
Both the exhibition and film are meant to work together to explore how American Indian identity is constructed through media.
A large part of Whiteman’s artistic career is discussing and analyzing popular media’s portrayal of American Indians. She is also a strong proponent of popularizing films and art made by indigenous artists. 
When she was young, she was strongly affected by the films of Chris Eyre, specifically “Smoke Signals,” which led her to pursue filmmaking, she said.
“Film and the creative process can be very healing, but it can also help us to tell the stories we are unable to tell face-to-face with people,” Whiteman said. “It’s also a powerful tool if we use it to benefit the people and the truth … but if we are using it for other means, like conditioning and brainwashing, then it can be a very dangerous thing.”
“Reel Injun” exposes how these constructs and stereotypes are created and perpetuated and how they have impacted artists and people through the years. 
And the conversation with Whiteman after the film lets the dialogue continue. 
“The education part is what we want to do. How can we, in our own lives, address these issues,” Whiteman said. “People have been conditioned to certain images and certain ideas, and it’s not to blame the individual. It’s to blame the industry and the system. … We want people to walk away with a better education about stereotypes and ways that they can address them.”
“Reel Injun” screening and conversation with Missy Whiteman
Where Weisman Art Museum, 333 E. River Parkway, Minneapolis
When 1 p.m. Friday
Cost Free with online registration