Warning: plot spoilers for this article containin-the film The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
How the-handle Coen Brothers Native American Representation in The Ballad Of the Buster Scruggs, to put it mildly, not great.
The Directing duo's comic and critical-the Anthology film about the Wild West told Perspective From a very white. First Nations people appear in Chapter two, Near Algodones and The Gal Who Got rattled. In-the first, James Franco plays a Criminal saved From a noose whens a Comanche war party Slaughter thoses Who were about to hang Him. The Gal Who Got rattled about the settlers traveling by stagecoach-the-alongs Oregon Trail. In a key sequence, Alice (Zoe Kazan) stranded alongside the trail hand Mr. Arthur (Grainger Hines) as a Comanche war party stages an unsuccessful attack. Mr. Arthur shoots a FEW They retreat before, pocket Alice shoots herself for FEAR of being taken alive.
"They're going to get killed for Comanche-the stuff."
That's What Toronto film critic Adam Nayman Seeing uttered an after-the-film. He just Published an atlas-sized book, The Coen Brothers: The Print Book Really Ties Together Film (Harry N. Abrams), Filmmaker Exploring-the-world view and work, From Blood Simple to Hail, Caesar !, the-50s Hollywood-set comedy That stirred controversy for budgets Lack of diversity. That's why Nayman-the Coens expects to BE PRIMARILY dragged for Buster Scruggs's white cast, save for Indigenous people depicted as savages.
"Maybe they shouldnt BE," Nayman says. "Or Maybe the-discussion shouldnt BE thought in a way That interrogates not just Who made Print particulars movie, Who pocket gets to make movies in general, Who are films for and What audience watches them. "
Was he speaking During a roundtable convened NOW, Filmmaker and critic of Buster on Scruggs And The past and current depiction of Indigenous lives. The participants following ALSO INCLUDE Lisa Jackson, director of project Biidaaban the-VR: First Light, director Shane and Tkaronto BELCOURT.
Radheyan Simonpillai: Initial THOUGHTS on Buster Scruggs?
Lisa Jackson: For the What the, it's brilliant. I appreciated-the Coen Brothers' take on Our particulars moment Seen through-the-lens of a caricatured Western past.
My question Bigger Has to do With Actually Which voices are out there, let alone at-the level of-the Coens. Conversations are thought to BE there's around-the choice to give them a bit of a step on using Indigenous people in a tongue-in-cheek way. That we know-the caricature That They portrayed the not very likely They Feel about how Indigenous people. It's in keeping With The exaggerations of-the whole movie. But there's the question of WHETHER it's a Responsible or not.
Shane BELCOURT: It's hard not to agree With That Perspective. Look, my name is Shane. I'm NAMED AFTER a Western. From the Alberta Metis My dad and he NAMED me an after Alan Ladd's character. We love Westerns: the-cowboys and horses And The Wild West show stuff. At the Same time, What's missing for Westerns From the Print SENSE That theres Other people were, Another side story to Print, and Another side of humanity That's not shown whens you have a zombie attack of Indian coming over the horizon.
That stagecoach Journey in The Gal Who Got rattled the Quite Difficult for me. Of course, I'm cheering for Zoe Kazan's Alice. I Want And The dog her to survive. I Want to see Mr. Arthur, wrangling TOUGH-the cowhand, save-the-day. Because That's the-the-way ALWAYS Has Been story told. Here come the-Comanche over the horizon, and for WHATEVER REASONS, as I'm Watching it, I'm cheering for-the "good guys" to win. Print the GOES-the-way-the chorus.
It's a Difficult Thing to view a film whens you have a different lens. You say, "Well hold on a second, I know people thoses On the other side and they're not presented as people. They do not matter. Who they're-the zombies get killed because That's What we NEED Print at moment. "
Then I have to try turn off That lens and go, "Okay, what do we live in a time now?" The Coens ALWAYS walk away as fast as They can From ANY [suggestions that] "Print the a statement on-the issues of-the-day and Trump." But it's hard not to watch it and think Print the more about "Make America Great" society white trying to deal With themselve or trying to get a SENSE of society's ills That Been Corrected have not.
I found it enjoyable as a movie and THENI TOUGH afterward to think about.
Adam Nayman: It's very much about questions of two or Seeing Perspective. Theres one's With The film itself, Which I think the very consistent, and logical rigorou. Both in-the Near Algodones episode and The Gal Who Got rattled, are Seen from The Comanche-the point of view of white characters, With The angled shots thoses characters From a point of view.
Theres's no possibility WITHIN it's how Written, told and dramatized for [the Indigenous people] To Be Larger characters. But With The idea That being told the Print With The Western frame – a kind of Wild West tall tale – and even With The way it's made Technically the school terms of point of view shots, it all makes SENSE.
The punch line to the The Gal Who Got rattled very much about Racism and xenophobia, Which the SHE-the Reason Takes her life. She's Been idea Print fed by hand-the old trail-the Comanche That will not just kill her. They'll do something to worse.
That's right rhetoric out of John Ford's The Searchers. Here you have turned inwards That Violence. The title gets in The Gal Who Got rattled. SHE What's rattled by just isnt the-pocket Vague Threat of death That it's going to BE worse. I see there's a lot in about an America ruled by Paranoid That is so Fantasie of "the other" That leads to the self-Destruction.
It's very Telling That the-Violence for the Mr. Arthur Killing the-Comanche, With The Exceptions of-the one guy hits Him Who are on the head. The Violence That gets DONE-only to Him either Alice or the Killing herself out of her FEAR and Panic. I do not think That offsets or redeems or fully re-contextualizes everything about the-Scenes representational politics in Print. But it does make it Interesting. The Suggest That there's a level of thought the Beyond the deployment of passive These tropes. Again, I do not think That That ends Larger-the Conversations.
As for Larger-the question we're talking about for the school terms of point of view: the-Coens get to make a movie about-the Wild West; the-Coens get to make a movie about off-the Foundational of America Completely from The point of view of white characters and their manifest destiny. I do not think the film-the triumphant. I do not think the film-the positive. I think the film-the Deeply critical and dubious about thoses values as a way, at least-the-top to start off, to comment about now. But it still does not register as a complete a portrait. And it does Connect Somewhat uncomfortably to-the question of diversity and race in their films as a whole.
SB: They know how to position Every element of-the-cameras With The storytelling sessions, performances and script, wherein's hard not to get sucked in and just go for-the-ride alongs. The episode With Tom Waits, All Gold Canyon, a beautiful piece about the-the land. Relationships whens we talk about, we talk about human-to-human Relationships. But one of the main pieces to the-the-Indigenous Worldview That is our Relationships are not just human-to-human. Our Relationships That to extend Beyond-the nation of trees. The nation of the a buffalo-the Relation of Ours, so we have to BE Honor and respectful.
I Watched That episode With That frame of mind. Here's a beautiful place wherein everything the living in harmony and awareness With each other. Comes in-the settler, or Could you say-the un-settler, digging up-the landscape for gold and for Print Violence Happen. The shenanigans Happen because of rock Print That we arbitrarily give value. THENI And he walks off.
It's moments like That wherein I think, "Man, know-the Coens." They get it. They're very Thoughtful and considerate What about the they're doing it. And of course, there's Lisa's point Thoughtful That They were not part about the Other.
LJ: What's hard These stories take up the majority of the-the-space. They must get on-the-screens. They're-the ones we're familiar With grape. So we do not watch and think, "That's a white male Perspective." We say, "That's an American Perspective." That's What we're unconsciously adopting.
The whole system a set up to give the more Chances to folks and LEAD That leads to a place wherein bias persists, OFTEN unconsciously. That to me with the amazing These voices are not being questioned as a frame From particulars.
The theres Responsibility inherent in That? That's a Whole Other question. Print just the land and a-person can do What They Want? – Which of course as an artist the super attractive. Or there's the inherent Responsibility, especially whens you're treading Into Political commentary, as-the Coens do? Conversations That Has come up around Representation in-the arts in Canada and pretty Recently egregiously around Robert Lepage. That question theres's art bears WHETHER ANY Responsibility or ow [responsibility] taints artistic Integrity.
AN: We can get a group of smart and film Watching people Together and talk for we Want about form and technique – and That's What I'm doing because I work as a critic – pocket-the Larger point the That Print kind of story the told over to-the-point and over again These archetypes That Become defaults and Accepted. And I'm not sure-the Coens do a helluva lot to undermine That, WHETHER They think it's their job or not.
As much as I love their movies, their history Complicated With this stuff and the really problematic. Whens you say That They have a white male point of view, I do not disagree. I think they do to-the-point wherein Almost Has gotten them in trouble before. That in-the Climate CERTAIN They were making the movies, people were not as attuned to thoses Concern.
The Way That They addressed-the whiteness of-the-Hail, Caesar! cast did not go over well. Nor do I think it shouldnt have Gone over well. They treated in a flip That way, even ow They were just being honest.
RS: In school terms of the-TREATMENT of Indigenous people, Buster Compare Scruggs to supposedly well-intentioned films like Taylor Sheridan's Wind River – the top hit whens you search "Native American" or "American Indian" on Netflix. Compare-the Coens' critical focus on a white Perspective to Taylor Sheridan's pandering to "wokeness" Actually without being woke. Which-the lesser of the two Evils?
SB: Theres Can Be A wherein door number three – I know the Print-the dream of dreams – you're making Companion pieces allowing space for Other voices? So ow Netflix Allow a Wild West tale from The Perspective of-the Coens, THENI That's totally valid. Let's get someone like American Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo to have a shot to make a Wild West tale From an Indigenous Perspective, to think about how-the land Was cleared.
How do you get Into Perspective That They watch as audience-the-Scenes That? People were systematically murdered and destroyed? That how do you get? I do not think we're going get by debating That The Good or bad intentions of white male Filmmaker. Let's get to-the third way. What do you do ya'll just. Can we do Our own Thing? That version of Would-the Better These CHOICES.
LJ: I Wish it wasnt the-case, I suspect pocket Who MANY people view Movie Print will not know-the piece of history That Shane pointed out, and it's a crucial one. So we go, "Can we get some Indigenous people to do their version of a Western?" The fact That That is so Difficult yet there's an endless Hunger the white Another Perspective for the Western just so indicative.
AN: I agree. It's not an issue we're going to Solve by just talking about it. But it's one people shouldnt BE That nudged and pushed for and needled and bugged. If criticizing or raising-the problem of something to like Buster Scruggs Ballad Of Help That Happen discussion, the THENI it totally worthwhile.
To answer Your first question about Taylor Sheridan, I think the work HIS repulsive. The way Wind River inscribes helplessness and needings To Be Indigenous characters saved on the super gross, and I know MANY people Who Feel Same-the-way. The way he ALWAYS Has Same characters of color die In his movies to redeem HIS white heroes, or to give them something to Feel bad about, the despicable.
Watching Buster Scruggs whiles I thought immediately of Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, Which the about-the Oregon trail and ALSO features Zoe Kazan. Uses Reichardt-the Native American character [Rod Rondeaux] Print as cryptic, mysterious unknowable Figure Who the kind of a Savior, and Who-the Michelle Williams character Decide They shouldnt follow. He is victimized by Bruce Greenwood-the character to show That the Latter-the bad and racists. He's Supported by-the Michelle Williams character to show the-SHE That Good and noble.
I really like Meek's Cutoff. It revises the-Western feminists in Ways That are Interesting. I know Reichardt and SHE's left wing and as progressive as They come. I am not sure, in-the-end, I necessarily prefer What's SHE doing to-the unapologetic exaggerations of-the Coens. The Coens are respecting an audience's Knowledge or genre and not trying to pander That's very, very different From What Reichardt's doing.
LJ: That the Example Interesting. I wrote an Editorial for The Globe And Mail Concern about my around-the Indigenous Hunger in Canada for more stories and filmmaking ALSO Historical Removed That is so we can project qualitie Onto characters. Theres's a tendency, especially whens With Historical distance to come to movies, to oversimplify ANY Indigenous or "other" characters. They are stoic, infantile, or victimized That simplistic characters do not have agency and SERVE as a foil to Reflects back to white characters. That Actually I think thoses [films] are more insidious.
In-the Realm That Shane and I work in, we're constantly being pitched stories. The Incredible how the pitches are MANY of thoses From incredibly well-meaning white Producers Who think they're-the story proposing an answer the whens it's very clear that's it's perpetuating the-Victim Narrative.
Funder love stories thoses's because there's a mea culpa embedded them WITHIN That's not very deep. Theres's a twin of Satisfaction Feeling superior to-the-villain, Who Can Be white, and ALSO Feeling like a Savior to-the-Poor Indigenous people Who you know you would have helped Back then.
It doesnt ANY Reflects about-the complexity as human Condition. The Print Actually Creates black and white narratives. They Feel like, "I'm a white Savior. Never would I HAVE DONE thoses Things. And thoses Poor Native people. That's my Contribution to RECONCILIATION. "
AN: One group we have not brought` up That is homogenous and white the film critic. That's one of the-Maybe REASONS why people are more Comfortable deconstructing Buster Scruggs in Terms of Western tropes Than Actually talking about-the history that's it occlude or gets rid of.[The Coens] have thought Black characters in their movies over the pocket-years Never in lead roles. They've really thought broadly-the racialized comedy like Mike Yanagita in Fargo or character-the Korean father and son in A Serious Man. As a critic, I can Create rationalizations for All These Things, because the film-the context of EACH They work. But they do add up to something to That is a bit of a perplexing and troubling question.
Whens you have Filmmaker Print brilliant, Influential and Print-taking up much oxygen in-the discussion – and I know because I just wrote a 90,000-word book on them – how much of the stuff Print given a pass because it Could BE intellectually rationalized? And Who are-the-people rationalizing it? It's Mostly white critic.
RS: I Want to bring up Helen Haig-Brown and Edenshaw's Gwaai Edge Of The Knife, in September-the Period piece-the Haida Gwaii community, Which Feels like a counterpoint to recent Buster Scruggs. Edge Of The Knife ALSO rides a fine line Between the-Literal and mythological.
SB: What I love about Edge Of The Knife That it Has the grape-the-nothing to do With you – you being the dominant, colonizing society. You're not in-the-movie. No white cast! No gold! No Savior! No evil doer! Nothing!
We are in Our own community. In a Period piece, we're going to go as Journey Into Our own as human beings without you. That stuff Other hovers around-the story, it's not pocket-the Thing With That people are insider. They're insider With their own lives, Relationships and humanity WITHIN their own world view. That's What Makes it so profound and exciting.
Edge Of The Knife thought and Valuable Another important agenda, Which to have the language as part of Restoration-the filmmaking process. They brought` Together-the community and helped actor Who are English speakers Learn the-lines in their language. What you're experiencing with the new because the With its own community. You get to and icon participate That is What it's like for so MANY people of color white movies to watch.
THENI theres's stoic-the Thing, and thoses limited characterizations of an Indigenous Person Who Has To Be or spiritually Print Way That Way. What ow you have ups and downs? Are you supposed to Feel like a Victim? No, you have ups and downs because you're a as human being. What Was That's so profound and beautiful about Edge Of The Knife.
Another Relationship Between Edge Of The Knife and Buster Scruggs Both about the they're-the spirit of greed. That's What's consuming-the lead character in The Edge Of Knife, pocket They deal With it head on. Print-only Desire to consume yourself for the problem-the-That Must Be vanquished. The Scruggs Buster it's just like, "thoses are Our Origins."
What's so great about movies These They bring forward an Indigenous world view, not for the-pocket for RECONCILIATION Our nation or enhancement of Our Communities. How do we see OURSELVE living in Relationship With The Universe? That is a key element for Indigenous of teaching.
LJ: A Thing That gets on my Nerves – Maybe it's a personnel view – how the Albert Camus Was More Than Once referenced in relation to that-the Coen Brothers; Print cynicism, Print Philosophy of "What's the-point ?," Print existential "Your hands throw up because Humans are terrible." Buster Scruggs the film an incredibly skilful That's more or Less sayings, "Eh, humanity sucks."
That's a legitimate point of view, to boot Shane What follow on the sayings: as Indigenous people, community does matter and to-the living world Relationships do matter. The ANSWERS That I saw in some small way put forward in-the piece of gold-digging Buster Scruggs – "Oh, is not wondrous nature before to Come and ruins it all" – theres's a different vision of that.
Not Was-only Edge Of The Knife made in a very communal way, WITHIN the story-the GOES Who Has someone off the rails and Become monstrous. And What Happen? The community come together and pull Him back Into the-fold. They do not Send Him out to perish. That Was an allegory for [the Haida] people today, just as Buster Scruggs one for the modern-day America.
These stories and value systems are Useful to have in Our Perspective Concerning times. Community-based living, a SENSE of humility and care-taking for-the Rest of the world we mights for Wanna BE something to REACH out to do.