Picturing Indians: Native Americans in Film, 1941–1960

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Topics: Imagined Wests

close up of American Indian wearing a cowboy hat

Autry Curator Josh Garrett-Davis interviews Liza Black (citizen of Cherokee Nation), author of Picturing Indians: Native Americans in Film, 1941–1960, about the work of Native Americans in Western movies, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.

What Is a Western? Interview Series: Picturing Indians

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Liza Black’s Picturing Indians: Native Americans in Film, 1941–1960 (University of Nebraska Press, 2020)


Escape from Fort Bravo (1953), featuring Diné (Navajo) extras and filmed in Arizona.

The Far Horizons (1955), featuring Shoshone extras and filmed in Wyoming.

Drum Beat (1954), featuring Apache extras and filmed in Arizona.

Warpath (1951), featuring Apsáalooke (Crow) extras and filmed in Montana.

The Return of Navajo Boy (2000) is an internationally acclaimed documentary that reunited a Navajo family and triggered a federal investigation into uranium contamination. 

Basketball or Nothing (2019) is a Netflix original series that follows the Chinle High basketball team in Arizona's Navajo Nation on a quest to win a state championship and bring pride to their isolated community.

Drunktown’s Finest (2014) features three young Navajos—an adopted Christian girl, a rebellious father-to-be, and a promiscuous trans woman—strive amid the hardships of life in Gallup, New Mexico, and the Navajo Nation.

Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian (2009) traces the evolution of cinema's depiction of Native people from the silent film era to today, with clips from hundreds of classic and recent Hollywood movies, and candid interviews with celebrated Native and non-Native film celebrities, activists, film critics, and historians.

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The Autry Museum of American West acknowledges the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (the Los Angeles basin and So. Channel Islands). We recognize that the Autry Museum and its campuses are located on the traditional lands of Gabrielino/Tongva peoples and we pay our respects to the Honuukvetam (Ancestors), ‘Ahiihirom (Elders) and ‘Eyoohiinkem (our relatives/relations) past, present and emerging.

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