This article addresses the question of what different audiences ‘see’ when watching movies depicting Native Americans, arguing that ways of ‘seeing’ are deeply embedded in specific cultural contexts. In particular, it is concerned with what a German movie-going audience—our EFL-students, in particular—see when watching blockbuster Hollywood movies like Dances with Wolves or popular Native American productions like Smoke Signals? Against the background of the West German Winnetou films and the East German DEFA westerns, respectively, German audiences on both sides of the iron curtain have been appropriating ‘Indians’ on their own terms, ‘using’ them for their own purposes and within their own cultural frames of reference.
For decades, Science Fiction had offered those involved in a cultural phenomenon stigmatized as escapist entertainment the opportunity to playfully work through their visions of the future, exploring both scenarios they might hope for and those they were deeply afraid of. Against this background, it is not surprising that particularly people marginalized by the current social order use fantastic fictions to either unmask present socio-cultural practices as oppressive or to imagine alternative ways of living where they would be no longer disenfranchised.
When stereotypes of modern Native Americans are brought forward, these usually manifest themselves in visions of poor Indians living on reservations, which are on lands no one else wanted. Modern Native Americans are often stereotyped as drunks or succumbing to the pressure of gamblers to open their reservations to casinos. One place to start in order to disprove these stereotypes is the statistical data. What follows is not an interpretive essay in the classic scholarly vein, but an informative one that provides a picture of the state of Native America at the end of the Twentieth Century based on current statistical data.