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Iron Man 3 Blasts Sand Creek

Dr. Leo Killsback
5/8/13

The majority of mainstream Americans know little to nothing of the violent and unjust history of the colonization of Native America. Anytime such truth is revealed to the public on the big screens, it should be done fairly since these are rare opportunities to reach the masses. The brutality of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 is one of the most horrific events in American history, but it is so shameful and remains out of sight, ignored, and therefore out of the minds of the majority of Americans. Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 includes the story of Sand Creek in the first real acknowledgement of the massacre in the modern mainstream film industry, but Black miserably fails to take advantage to shed some light on the dark and shameful history of the U.S.

In the movie the villain called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) justifies his violence in a series of propaganda videos. One video showed historic pictures of Cheyennes, even children at Carlisle boarding school, with his voice-over telling how the U.S. waited for warriors to depart on a hunt before soldiers attacked the peaceful camp. The Mandarin then asserts that this same tactic inspired his terrorist group to attack a church in Kuwait filled with the families of American soldiers. Initially, I was generally impressed that Sand Creek was actually mentioned in the blockbuster film. I was even fascinated that the fictionalized villain correlated the Sand Creek Massacre to conflicts in the Middle East. Unfortunately, by midway through the film, I was completely disappointed and deeply upset that the massacre was even mentioned.

The purpose for using Sand Creek wasn’t too clear, but results in too many wrong assumptions. Are Americans supposed to hold resentment towards their terrorists as Cheyenne survivors held resentment towards the U.S. after Sand Creek? Does the correlation promote sympathy for unjust acts of genocide committed by the U.S. in 1864, or condemn terrorists as unjust and irrational as the U.S. soldiers? Whatever the case, the use of Sand Creek further confuses the populace of crimes of the past.

If the movie had made a parallel between the U.S. atrocities committed at both Sand Creek and in modern Middle East conflicts, like the revisionist films of the 1970s, then it would actually promote sympathy for the insurgents, since they defend their families and homelands against the same imperial aggression. The Mandarin’s comparison had potential to be an intelligent reflection of the George Santayana’s celebrated quote: “those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.” But this was not the case and such parallels are likely to never happen in Hollywood. Besides this isn’t my primary concern.

What upset me the most is that when the Mandarin was captured and exposed as a fraud, and as he lost all credibility, he took the true story of Sand Creek with him. By virtue of association, the true story of the massacre was falsified, devalued, and in all likelihood, branded in the minds of viewers as nothing short of propaganda from a fictional terrorist played by a drug-addicted actor, played by Ben Kingsley. I would rather have the events of Sand Creek completely ignored than be subjugated to so many levels of fictionalization.

Those who teach American Indian history already face major challenges because we are often doubted for teaching unpopular content. We are also not easily respected as experts, nor are we privileged with credibility when teaching of America’s history of deception and violence against Indians. We must learn an art of teaching that encourages students to intellectually engage and evaluate unpleasant and threatening truths, while ensuring that they are welcomed and respected, as they are encouraged to welcome and respect Indian perspectives. We also must substantiate and cite facts in access to avert the appearance of bias. This is not an easy art that one can learn over night, but must be done as we sincerely and honestly impart valuable knowledge and wisdom. Both the Mandarin and Iron Man represent a source of such challenges.

I understand that the Mandarin had to develop as a worthy villain and at the end of the day it was just a movie. But when actual events, especially well-documented heinous acts of genocide, are included in make-believe stories the truth in history can also become make-believe, especially to those with no prior knowledge. Viewers may come to pompously devalue or fiercely contest any future exposures to American Indian history, especially when learning of events where innocent Indian people fell victim to the violence perpetrated and condoned by the U.S.

Most who have never learned of American Indians typically rely on Hollywood for education, whether they know it or not. Hollywood has refined their art of deception.

Iron Man 3 represents that deception, enabling ignorance to thrive while disgracing the nearly 200 innocent Cheyenne men, women, and children who were murdered that cold day on November 29, 1864. Any massacre should never be fictionalized.

Dr. Leo Killsback is a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation of Montana and culturally and spiritual identifies as a Cheyenne person. He is an qssistant professor in American Indian Studies at Arizona State University.

 

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Anonymous's picture
from aiahninchi ohoyo....'scuse me....iron man 3 was not about sand creek...all i saw was the mandarin was using it as a justification for terrorist attacks...you might as well quit sawing the violin....the movie was about iron man....it was great for its marvel hero genre....a movie, not a manifesto about evils perpetuated on peoples by other peoples...
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Weren't it Cheyennes and Arapahos that were massacred at Sand Creek, why are the Cheyenne only mentioned?
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
We can't act offended just because they said "Sand Creek." Indeed, this wasn't a movie about Sand Creek, nor was it mocked or treated with disrespect as Dr. Killsback implies. With attitudes like his, instead of being glad that mainstream America actually uses Sand Creek as a stepping stone something people could learn about if they chose to do so, he's mad that they didn't nitpick about imperialism when they main plot was basically people were essentially made of organic lava or something and they even mentioned alien attacks from The Avengers, go figure. I'm glad some comments know this is "a movie, not a manifesto about evils perpetuated on peoples by other peoples," but no "deception" was made regarding Sand Creek other than it was mentioned. With attitudes like that, people will be like, "Indians act offended if you even say anything about American history," and thus we alienate ourselves instead of be glad we have an opportunity to educate.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
There is a lot of Native Peoples history, not told.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
With respect for those who were killed, maimed and those who survived the massacre and their descendants who live with the legacy of 29 & 30 November and 1 December, 1864. Dr. Killsback, makes some very good points about how we all view history. He is correct that in fictionalising this event "results in too many wrong assumptions." The history of the massacre is approaching 150 years, but is so filled with misconceptions, deceptions and misstatements of what happened it is hard to find an accurate version. [The truth, of course is not.] As he notes, a common tale, the villain (of Iron Man III) "took the true story of Sand Creek with him ..." leaving "the true story ... falsified, devalued." Unfortunately, that has been the trend in the countless renditions, with just a few telling the story without using it as a political device. I am not a spokesman for any group or organisation, but have been in support of and an observer of the memorialisation process for a dozen years. I've witnessed tens of thousands of words written by people who never call, write, or visit the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Southeastern Colorado [dedicated in 2007]. Many writers base their concepts on tertiary history and op-ed & "pop-history," which constantly re-states scores of misconceptions in turn further "devaluing" the history. The National Park Service in partnership & consultation with the Northern & Southern Arapaho and Northern & Southern Cheyenne tribes works diligently to protect the core site where it happened. For fourteen years, in partnership with the local community, the annual Spiritual Healing Runs have brought healing and prayer through respect and care to the site, and made the story available to anyone who will venture out there. People from all over the world come to visit and reflect at the site and try to understand. They know this site is universal, global and specific all at once. Many are shocked to find that massacre spread over thirty-five to fifty square miles and lasted for nine hours the first day with people killed there over the next two days. The effect has lasted 15 decades. There is no way to absorb the immensity of the site through "virtual reality." The accurate story of the Sand Creek Massacre, from people who were there, needs no embellishment or literary license to recreate the real horrors. Any writers of screenplays, fictionalised accounts, historical articles and books should come to the site where staff will do their best to aid in the understanding and put them in contact with researchers, tribal representatives and academics who know. [Several knowledgable & bona fide researchers and historians are only a phone call away.] Those who visit the site find seventy years of Hollywood images are generally misleading, "biased" and unsubstantiated, far beyond "creative non-fiction." Dr. Killsback talks about teaching, and encouraging students, "to intellectually engage and evaluate, unpleasant and threatening truths,..." I would say that the site does "welcome and respect" and staff makes the best effort to help visitors disable their ignorance. The site itself effectively tells much of the true story quietly on the open plains. Lastly, in this "peace chiefs' camp" were about 700-750 people. The adult Cheyenne and Arapaho men who were there weren't all away "hunting" (a misrepresentation), but against an overwhelming 675 U. S. Volunteer cavalry soldiers, Big Head, young White Leaf and Howling Wolf stood and covered the escape of their families. At least fifty fighting men sacrificed themselves in holding actions and were among the 200 or more killed there. At least 150 non-combatant women, children and elderly were killed and another 50 or more men and 150 or more non-combatants were wounded or maimed that first day. Perhaps 300 to 350 Cheyennes and Arapahoes, mostly young people escaped uninjured but scarred. jcc
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
The "Anonymous" of comment of May 21, 2013, was mine, I'm "jcc" Jeff C. Campbell from Eads, Colorado. Apparently I didn't hit the right button. Travel well.
Anonymous

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