After a successful year on the international film-festival circuit and brief theatrical runs in several major Canadian cities, Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian keeps making headlines.
On April 1, filmmaker Neil Diamond and the production crew at Rezolution Films heard the unbelievable news that Reel Injun had won a Peabody Award.
This prestigious award is given to the best work produced in electronic media – be it radio, television or cable – by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in Athens, Georgia.
Diamond was in New York City when he received the news and was completely elated, though he did experience a moment of doubt. “It was such great news, but towards the end of the day I realized it was April Fools’ Day and I started to wonder if somebody was playing a prank on me. As it turned out, nobody was.”
Diamond admitted that he knew little about the Peabody Awards before winning one. “I didn’t know much other than it was a coveted prize. So I checked out –their website and saw the names of the previous winners – All In The Family, MASH, Roots, John Stewart. They were all groundbreaking programs and stuff I liked to watch.”
Checking out all the winners in the Peabody’s 70-year history, Diamond said he only found one other Native winner, a Navaho radio station in New Mexico in 1954. “And there aren’t that many Canadian winners either. The CBC has won several, the NFB a couple and so did Peter Gzowski – so I’m in pretty good company.”
This year there are two Canadian recipients among the 39 Peabody winners; the other one is the high-school drama Degrassi, which won for a two-part episode about a transgender teen.
Diamond is certainly happy with the success of Reel Injun, which examines how Hollywood movies have depicted and misrepresented Native Americans throughout the 20th century.
“I never expected it. The initial idea was to do a funny, half-hour documentary possibly for APTN. Then it turned into a much larger project and became a huge success that’s taken me around the world to places like Australia, New Zealand, Finland and now South Korea.”
Everywhere Reel Injun is screened, the film gets a great response. “It’s the humour that does it. There are a lot of funny things in the story of how Hollywood has portrayed Native Americans over the years. Of course, it could have been a serious and even angry documentary, but that would have turned people off.”
Seeing that the reaction to the film has been overwhelmingly positive, one wonders if anything negative has ever been published. “As far as I know it’s gotten two bad reviews, both from New York papers, the Village Voice and Time Out. But I didn’t care because that same weekend, the New York Times ran its review and they really liked it.”
The actual Peabody Awards ceremony will take place May 23 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and will be hosted by Larry King. Asked if he’ll be attending, Diamond said it’s quite an expensive affair and nothing been worked out yet.
This won’t be the first time that Reel Injun has been feted. Last November, the documentary picked up three top prizes at the 25th Annual Gemini Awards in Toronto: Best Direction in a Documentary Program, Best Visual Research and the Canada Award, which is given to films that promote awareness of Canada’s racial and cultural diversity.
In light of Reel Injun’s success, one wonders if there will be a sequel? Diamond laughed and said there’s been some thought about Reel Injun Part II. “It’s such a rich subject, and there was so much that we couldn’t put into the film. We left a lot of things out – the ‘Red Westerns’ from East Germany, the German fascination with Native Americans, the Czech Indian camps. We even discovered a place in Thailand where the Thai go and dress up as cowboys and Indians. So there could very well be a sequel.”