Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hollywood vs. America: The War At Home 02.28.00

The history of the United States has been well-documented on film, the favorite subject is seemingly the wars we’ve waged. The canon captured on camera includes war pics about the two world wars of this century, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Spanish-American War, the War Between the States, the Mexican-American War, The American Revolution, and even the Gulf War (in last year’s Three Kings.)

However, with the exception of Civil War docudramas, it’s rare to see a film about the US declaring war on its own. Perhaps it’s a case of selective memory, or subtle propaganda or even a collective brush under the rug, but as surely as these wars at home have been hush-hushed, there are filmmakers brave enough to tell their stories.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The United States government declared war on the indigenous peoples of this country almost as soon as the ink was dry on the Declaration of Independence. Picking up where the Spanish, the French and the British left off, the good old USA began a systemic stripping of territory, independence and cultural identity in a 220-year campaign of creeping genocide.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Indians didn’t just meekly accept a bottle of firewater and trail-of-tears-it to the reservation. The forked tongue of Uncle Sam wagged, treaties were broken, and tribes went on the warpath. The Indian campaigns have been the subject of cinema since its genesis, more often than not rah-rah-rahing behind the cavalry and the cowboys. Occasionally, Hollywood portrayed the Indian wars without the apologetics of manifest destiny, and sometimes with sympathy towards the Indians.

Few movies even exist about the Ottawans, the Seminoles and Creeks, and outside of Last of the Mohicans, the Mohicans. There is, however, a highly underrated film about the great Apache warrior, Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) and the little known Tecumseh: The Last Warrior (1995), about the unfairly vilified Shawnee chief.

The Indians of the Great Plains have been the subjects of countless films because of the inherent drama in the Battle of Little Big Horn and the enigmatic General George Armstrong Custer. Seldom were the events of the downfall of the Sioux and Cheyenne peoples even remotely accurately depicted, but there stands a small handful of films that attempt to do so. Among them are the classic Chief Crazy Horse (1955), the excellent made-for-TV Custer biopic Son of the Morning Star (1991), Michael Apted’s documentary Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story(1991) and his fictionalized companion piece Thunderheart (1992), the documentary Wiping The Tears of Seven Generations (1992) and another outstanding telefilm, Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994).

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Our First Amendment guarantees the citizenry the right to worship as one sees fit. Freedom of religion is certainly regarded as one of the cornerstones of our democracy. However, the US government’s record for upholding this right isn’t without blemish. Religious intolerance has led to persecution, even state-mandated persecution. US Calvary troops, in, fact massacred an entire community of Mormons one hundred years ago. (A well-known but as yet unproduced screenplay of this horrific event has been circulating in Hollywood for years.)

Seventh Day Adventists have suffered similar fates. As recently as this decade, the government has come under fire for the tactics employed against the Branch Davidians, an offshoot of Seventh Day Adventists, at their Waco Compound. The documentary Waco: The Rules of the Engagement (1997) and the made-for-TV, In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco, look at David Koresh and his followers and investigate the questionable motives of the ATF, the FBI and the Attorney General.

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The attack on the Branch Davidians was the pudding for many political dissidents who take libertarianism to the extreme and fear government intrusion on all levels. In the past ten years, a sharp rise in militia groups has precipitated an equally sharp rise in government scrutiny of their activities. Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy (1996), starring Randy Quaid, Laura Dern and Kirtsen Dunst as the Weaver family, who besieged by overzealous Feds, defend their home.

Are you now, or have you ever been, a Communist?

Of course, the war against political dissenters is nothing new. In the 1950’s, the Red Scare swept the nation, the hottest fad since hula hoops, but not nearly as fun. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee openly declared war on communists, destroying countless livelihoods and countless lives. The outstanding Citizen Cohn (1992) gives an indepth overview of one of HUAC’s lawdogs.

The effects of McCarthyism is well-documented by Hollywood because Hollywood’s left-wing writers, directors, actors and producers were one of the most targeted groups. The Robert De Niro vehicle, Guilty by Suspicion (1992) is a fictionalized account of the events leading up to the Hollywood Blacklist.

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