Reel Injun Stirs Debate in Portland

Posted on October 7, 2010

Pat Kruis, from Oregon Public Broadcasting, reports on a recent Community Cinema screening of Reel Injun in Portland, OR. The event was hosted by OPB and the University of Oregon School of Journalism. Find upcoming Community Cinema events near you and join the conversation on our Facebook page 

Community Cinema reminds me of how much I miss watching films in the company of others. I’ve fallen prey to the isolation of Netflix, Red Box, and the DVR. When I watched Reel Injun: On the Train of the Hollywood Indian alone, I had a mild-mannered reaction, thanking the filmmaker for his light touch when he could have been angry.


Watching it again in a room full of eighty people sprinkled with Native Americans, put me closer to the sting as the film slapped their heritage with insult after insult.

“Those pictures of those people dying, that ripped my heart out,” said Jerrilyn, a Native American who brought her grown children to the screening to, “stick up for the Indians.” The audience laughed together at the subtitle translations when native actors went off script, unnoticed by a director who didn’t speak their language. We gasped in unison when Bugs Bunny erased half a hash mark for a dead Indian because he was a “half-breed.” In the dark, the audience responded like a single organism. When the lights came up, we saw our differences. Here are some reactions in quotes: 

“The movie industry is an industry. They want to make movies that appeal to the broadest audience. The headbands kept the wigs on and were more comfortable than glue.” — Ted Mahar, Film Critic. 

“People ask me if I live in a teepee. They call me a squaw. They ask if I did a rain dance to make it rain. It’s all this stuff that Hollywood puts on television.” — Jerrilyn Courturier, Native American. 

“It’s our responsibility as a filmmaker to be authentic. It’s our responsibility as an audience member to be present and aware of what we’re seeing.” — Ryan Crisman, Oregon Media Production Association 

“I see a big shift of us being more compassionate to our neighbors and more understanding of others in our community.” — Donita Fry, Native American Youth and Family Center. 

Watching this film as a community put me in touch with the passion of the people at the center of this documentary. That’s Community Cinema. I’m looking forward to an excellent season.


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