Still, the early days of silent film, when technology was simple and cheap, actually saw movies being made by Native Americans about Native Americans depicting the realities of their lives at the time. It wasn't until the "talkies," and more specifically Westerns, came along that the problems began. Diamond himself talks about how as a young kid the only movies he saw on his reserve were the ones shown in a church basement on Saturday afternoons and how he and his friends would never identify with the Indians on the screen when a Western was shown. First of all none of them wore feather headdresses or rode horses, and secondly, who'd want to be the bad guy?
Ah, but that's the past you say, and things have changed since then. Look at Dances With Wolves with its sympathetic portrayal of the Lakota, for example. While it's true, according to some of the film critics interviewed in Reel Injun, that it was a watershed in the way it depicted Native Americans as multi-dimensional humans, it was still an outsider's view of what Native life was like, and a distorted one at that, according to some. Russell Means, a Lakota and former leader in the American Indian Movement, was offended by the depiction of his nation requiring some "white guy with a mullet" to teach them how to fight. The people who defeated Custer at Big Horn didn't need "Lawrence of the Plains" to teach them anything.
In fact, while most interviewed agreed, including Clint Eastwood, John Trudell, and Native film critic Jesse Wente, individual performances by people like Chief Dan George, Graham Greene, and Gary Farmer were invaluable in changing people's perceptions of the one-dimensional stoic Indian, it wasn't until Native Americans began making films about Native Americans that real change occurred. Smoke Signals, based on a story by Sherman Alexie and directed by Chris Eyre, was set on the Spokane reservation in the state of Washington. Nobody was wearing feathers, riding a horse or talking in pidgin English. The characters lived in the modern world and dealt with the day to day shit that concerns most Native Americans today.
However, even Eyre says that his movie was made with the wider world in mind, and not until the release of The Fast Runner by Inuk director Zacharias Kunuk was there was a film by, about, and for Native people in North America. Winner of the Camera d'Or for Best Feature Film at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001, Fast Runner was set a thousand years ago among the people of the far north. Shot entirely in the language of the people, it was a gritty and real representation of what life was like in the days before contact with Europeans. There was nothing glamourous or holy about the life depicted — it was just who they were and what they had to do in order to survive.