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Masculinities in American Western Films

A Hyper-Linear History

Emma Hamilton

The «Western» embodies many of the stereotypes of masculinity: rugged, independent men in cowboy hats roam the barren landscapes of the American West, resolving conflicts with guns and tough talk. Where did these cowboys come from? What historical trends led to their emergence on screen?

This book explores the relationship between the Western, film and historical representation and the ways in which masculine gender performance is itself historical. It posits a new interpretation of how history functions on film, termed hyper-linear history. Hyper-linear history creates the possibility of seeing film as a vehicle that makes the past immediately explicit and relevant, rendering historical understandings complex.

The study offers a fresh exploration of American Western films made in the 1950s and 1960s, arguing that many Westerns of this period rely on the post-Civil War on-screen past to make sense of the tumultuous experiences of the period, to various effect. The films especially tap into the ways in which national economic, political, technological and social changes impact the performance of hegemonic masculinities. These films provide insight into the ways in which masculinities are performed and gender crises are expressed, explored and resolved.

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Chapter 4 ‘You’re the party done all the suffering’: Representing Stereotypes of Native Americans in the ‘Pro-Indian’ Western Cycle


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‘You’re the party done all the suffering’: Representing Stereotypes of Native Americans in the ‘Pro-Indian’ Western Cycle

While Mexican characters populate Western films, perhaps the most visible and recognized Western subgenre to explore the intersections between race and gender are those films that feature relations between Native Americans and European Americans. This analysis will focus on the representations of Native Americans and ‘native–white’ relations in the so-called ‘pro-Indian’ Western cycle, with a particular focus on two films: The Unforgiven (John Huston, 1960) and Soldier Blue (Ralph Nelson, 1970). On the surface it appears these films have little in common except for the central theme of how white society copes with ‘Indian issues’ and for their placement within the broader cycle of films centred on relations between Native Americans and European Americans. However, both films do use similar devices to express vastly different racial ideas, and as such they are extremely pertinent to a discussion of the historicity of stereotype and the capacity of racialized representation to pose a challenge to patriarchal social structures. Both films use strategies such as female characters to mediate between Native American and white societies; ‘the man who knows Indians’ stereotype either used or subverted in the portrayal of the central male protagonists; an older male figure who is a harbinger of different societal attitudes and a catalyst for change; violence and its significance at both the individual and governmental level; the questioning of who and/or...

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