Death of the celluloid maiden: Images of Native American women in film
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractDeath of the Celluloid Maiden: Images of Native American Women in Film traces and analyses the representation of Native American women in the history of American film. In particular, the work focuses on the figure of a young Native woman who falls in love with, aids, or otherwise is connected to the white hero and dies for that choice. I have labeled this representation the Celluloid Maiden trope. It contains two primary figures that I have termed the Celluloid Princess and the Sexualized Maiden. These figures inform each other from the 1910s through the 1960s and combine to form a hybrid character in the 1970s and 1990s. The trope emerges in conjunction with the myth of the Frontier and the white American Adam/hero figure as ambiguous references to inter-racial mixing and assimilation. While each generation of media maneuvers the trope to fit the political and social milieu of the period, it remains a solidly entrenched vehicle through which colonialism and racism are enacted on the body of the Native American woman. Within the Celluloid Maiden trope, native culture, sexuality, and race conflate into interchangeable identifiers of difference that participate in a larger discourse of nationalism, itself based on a hierarchy of race and gender. Thus, the Celluloid Maiden trope and its components are deeply tied to American identity politics and an ongoing re-establishment of a white, patriarchal system of power through its narratives of belonging, nation formation, colonization and racism. Death of the Celluloid Maiden's significance lies in its dedication to understanding the ways in which our culture utilizes racialized, gendered and sexualized bodies, especially female bodies, as sites for inscribing difference. The dissertation explores the complex web of power relations that exists in the cultural arena informing film images. In particular, I am concerned with how the historical and visually reproductive relationship between whites and Native Americans in general, which informs this particular image of Native American women specifically, creates intercultural boundaries that continually reinforce social, racial, and gendered difference.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies