Dances with Wolves

AFI Rank: #75
Year Released: 1990
Director: Kevin Costner
Actors: Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner gets a lot of grief for Dances with Wolves, and while I agree with some of it, I think he did an exceptional job of trying to get this right. He employed numerous native Americans, asked for their advice regularly, and used their native language in the film. It's easy to forget now that, at the time, most movies about native Americans involved those individuals waving at tomahawk around and promptly dying. Dancing with Wolves was one of the first movies to really show the native American side of things, to help watchers get a sense of appreciation for their culture.

Lieutenant Dunbar - Costner - has had enough of war. He tries to commit suicide, fails, and volunteers to go out to the far west. Here he's assigned a run down, empty fort to guard. Soon he's becoming friends with the local tribe, and he quickly becomes restored by their down to earth style of living. There is a white woman as part of the tribe, and the two fall in love.

Yes there are the "oh so good" Sioux and the "oh so evil" Pawnee. There's only so much a movie can do to cross hurdles. We at least still have a native American group we are rooting for - and at times we're rooting against the "evil Army" which is fairly unheard of in movies back then.

I've ended up watching this at least 20 times. First, I write books on courtship practices and one is on the Native American practices. Since this movie was fairly well researched, I included it on my movie listings. Second, a college course I took had us watch this movie and examine the cultural interactions. The professor was convinced that the enemy tribe was NOT Pawnee so I had to watch it several times including the various director cuts to get the proof that they were in fact clearly referred to as Pawnee. The professor was also convinced that the teen boy, Smiles a Lot, was a homosexual. To me he was simply a boy trying to prove himself repeatedly to the men in the tribe, and over time he does earn their respect. I don't see any sign that he is considered a homosexual or anything other than a warrior-in-training by the tribe.

In terms of the Bechdel test, there are only two females of note in the storyline. One is the Caucasian woman, Stands with a Fist. The other is Black Shawl, the wife of the medicine man of the tribe. Both are good characters, but I'm not sure they ever talk with each other about anything other than Dunbar.

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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100