The Danger of Employing Redskins as Movie Actors

Although it's getting a lot of flak from publishers and authors, Google Books is one of the most amazing contributions to world knowledge launched on the web in years. The ability to search the full text of thousands of books published prior to 1923 -- and hence in the public domain -- is amazing. I've been poking around it for a while, and I found something today while studying how Americans used the term "redskins" before Washington's NFL team chose that repulsive racist mascot in 1933.

In the 1915 book Making the Movies, author Ernest Alfred Dench wrote a section giving advice to filmmakers on hiring Native Americans as actors. Here it is in full:

The Dangers of Employing Redskins as Movie Actors

It is only within the last two or three years that genuine Redskins have been employed in pictures. Before then these parts were taken by white actors made up for the occasion. But this method was not realistic enough to satisfy the progressive spirit of the producer.

The Red Indians who have been fortunate enough to secure permanent engagements with the several Western film companies are paid a salary that keeps them well provided with tobacco and their worshipped "fire water."

It might be thought that this would civilise them completely, but it has had a quite reverse effect, for the work affords them an opportunity to live their savage days over again, and they are not slow to take advantage of it.

They put their heart and soul into the work, especially in battles with the whites, and it is necessary to have armed guards watch over their movements for the least sign of treachery. They naturally object to acting in pictures where they are defeated, and it requires a good deal of coaxing to induce them to take on such objectionable parts.

Once a white player was seriously wounded when the Indians indulged in a bit too much realism with their clubs and tomahawks. After this activity they had their weapons padded to prevent further injurious use of them.

With all the precautions that are taken, the Redskins occasionally manage to smuggle real bullets into action; but happily they have always been detected in the nick of time, though on one occasion some cowboys had a narrow escape during the producing of a Bison film.

Even to-day a few white players specialise in Indian parts. They are pastmasters in such roles, for they have made a complete study of Indian life, and by clever make-up they are hard to tell from real redskins. They take leading parts, for which Indians are seldom adaptable.

To act as an Indian is the easiest thing possible, for the Redskin is practically motionless.

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