Indians in Prime Time: Violent Ambush on AMC's 'Hell on Wheels'

ICTMN Staff
11/7/11

With acclaimed series such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Walking Dead, the AMC cable network has established itself as a showcase for cutting-edge drama. The latest show is Hell on Wheels, described as "a contemporary western" at the AMCTV.com website, and the internet is abuzz with reviews and commentary, much of it debating whether the show is of the same caliber as the other AMC series.

Among the clips online is this scene depicting Cheyenne Indians attacking white settlers. As we all know, portrayals of Indians in the western genre have been among the worst cinematic cliches. Clearly the show is striving to be edgy, and this brutal scene uses violent Indian characters to achieve that goal. Perhaps it's not fair to judge a show based on a single scene out of context—and the show's producers do deserve some credit for the casting of Native actors like Eddie Spears and Julian Black Antelope. The AMC website states that Hell on Wheels "underscores the network's commitment to the Western"—we'll be watching with great interest to see what sort of western AMC has created, whether it's one that allows Indians with dramatic depth or simply uses them as cartoonish plot devices.

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ukumbwa's picture
ukumbwa
Submitted by ukumbwa on
Thank you for this report. I wrote a short and early critique of this, too, on my Cultural Media Literacy blog. Kudos to the casting director and producers on hiring Native Actors, but the attack felt gratuitous and overly gruesome simply to get across the inner angst of Dominique McElligott at the death of her husband, already sickly and who earlier spoke of his impending death. I'll go out on the limb - and not a shaky one - and say the first episode doesn't feel good at all. It is full of old stereotypical markers now simply shot in HD. The show was gritty, but unimpressive. It will be very interesting to see where the portrayals of the Native American and African characters goes here. I don't hold out much hope that they are going anywhere particularly conceptually liberating. Concern still looms on the high possibility that AMC will immerse us in old narrative patterns rendered in a slightly different color temperature.

ukumbwa's picture
ukumbwa
Submitted by ukumbwa on
Looking forward to hearing more from ICTMN on this. The narrative around Native Americans and Africans seems to be deepening, but from the place it started that doesn't say much. I'm still seeing standard, but slightly more expansive views of non-Europeans, but it still remains to be seen whether AMC and the writers have been able to visualize a different, more grounded, more liberating, more meaningful depiction of the "other" outside of a media system steeped in white privilege and colonization politics. Still comes across as an old, stereotypical colonizer story in new, shiny, technically-superior HD. Unimpressive....not nearly the pathos that AMC touts it to have.
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