Hollywood's Native Americans
Stories of Identity and Resistance
by Angela Aleiss
April 2022, 212pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-7156-6
$50, £38, 44€, A68
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-7157-3
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Native people have always had a voice or “agency” and have made the best decisions given the times and resources at their disposal.

This book highlights the contributions and careers of Native Americans who have carved impressive careers in Hollywood, from the silent film era of the early 1900s to the present, becoming advocates for their heritage.

This book explores how the heritage and behind-the-scenes activities of Native American actors and filmmakers helped shape their own movie images. Native artists have impacted movies for more than a century, but until recently their presence had passed largely unrecognized. From the silent era to contemporary movies, this book features leading Native American actors whose voices have reached a broad audience and are part of the larger conversation about the exploitation of underrepresented people in Hollywood.

Each chapter highlights Native actors in lead or supporting roles as well as filmmakers whose movies were financed and distributed by Hollywood studios. The text further explores how a “pan-Indian heritage” that applies to all tribes in terms of spirituality, historical trauma, and a version of ceremony and storytelling have shaped these performers’ movie identities. It will appeal to a wide range of readers, including fans of Westerns, history buffs of American popular cinema, and students and scholars of Native American studies.


  • Interviews with today's Native American actors and filmmakers
  • Rare photos of Native artists in film and behind the scenes
  • Foreword by noted film historian and archivist Jan-Christopher Horak
  • Stories of the emergence of Native women in Hollywood
  • Contributions of Native American "consultants" in the movie industry
  • Script revisions of early films highlighting the heritage of Native actors
Angela Aleiss received her PhD in film studies from Columbia University and currently teaches at California State University, Long Beach. She is a former visiting scholar at UCLA's American Indian Studies Center and is author of Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies.


Nobody knows the history of Native Americans in the film industry better than Angela Aleiss--by far. I've known her work for many years, and it's always been honest, insightful, and fair.—David Robb, Labor Reporter, Deadline Hollywood

This book represents the finest in scholarly research on the subject of Native Americans in the media. Working closely with tribal governments, Dr. Aleiss presents the most accurate information possible on Native American players from the time of Princess Red Wing to the present. She has avoided the editorialism and speculation which has been present in previous works and created a reliable source for future researchers and historians. —Richard Adkins, Curator, Hollywood Heritage Museum

Authoritative and encyclopedic, this engaging new book is not just another look at Indians in the movies, but the definitive account of a century of filmmaking, from silent movies through the age of Netflix and HBO. Indians have always had a hand in telling their own stories on screen, even if those contributions have often been ignored or effaced. Not anymore. Angela Aleiss knows the films and the men and women who made them better than anyone else. Drawing on extensive archival research and interviews with writers, actors, show-runners, and directors, Hollywood’s Native Americans: Stories of Identity and Resistance finally rewrites this history from the inside.—Richard Koszarski, Editor Emeritus, Film History: An International Journal

In an engaging narrative, Angela Aleiss traces the long history of Native Americans in the film industry from the silent era to the present. Aleiss demonstrates how each generation of Native Americans in the film industry—both on screen and behind the scenes—had a voice, which they used to influence their representations in film, and, over time, as a basis for activism and social justice. Tracing the careers and experiences of Native men and women in Hollywood, Aleiss’s work counters the oft-repeated narrative of Native exploitation to reveal how Native actors, directors, and technical advisors used their identities to shape the film industry and the role of Native Americans in Hollywood. A terrific book, Aleiss is able to show how generations of Native Americans in the film industry were not mere victims of Hollywood exploitation, rather, Native people negotiated, as best they could, their place in the film industry and over time resisted racist depictions and the negative treatment of Native Americans in Hollywood.—Jameson Sweet (Lakota/Dakota), Assistant Professor, Rutgers University

Angela Aleiss does the vital work of recovering how Native American performers and filmmakers from the silent era onward have drawn upon a shared tribal heritage to actively craft their own screen images and, in the process, shaped our larger, cultural understanding of what it means to be “Indian” in America. Exhaustively researched, and written in lucid, engaging prose, Hollywood’s Native Americans is an important and timely study, arriving at a moment when Native artists are achieving unprecedented visibility and influence in popular media.—Andrew Patrick Nelson, Associate Professor of Film Studies, University of Utah, and author of Still in the Saddle: The Hollywood Western, 1969-1980

The great majority of books on the representation of Native Americans in Hollywood movies focus entirely on how Hollywood shaped the image of Native Americans. Aleiss’s book looks at how Native Americans participated in the shaping of their own representation on screen—on Native American as auteurs. She begins with the pioneering writers-and-directors James Young Deer and Edwin Carewe and makes a strong case for Will Rogers as the agent of his own stardom and as the creative genius behind the making of the films in which he starred. These early trail blazers led the way for those who followed, including Ray Mala, Jay Silverheels, Lillian St. Cyr, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Chief Yowlachie, Chief John Big Tree, Chief Dan George, Irene Bedard, Misty Upham, Chris Eyre, Sydney Freedland, Wes Studi, and Adam Beach. Along the way, Aleiss is careful to out “pretendians,” actors who falsely claimed Native American heritage. But the book’s greatest pleasure for me lies in its elaborate footnotes which document the meticulous research that lies behind the beguiling stories told in the book.—John Belton, author, American Cinema/American Culture

An important and empathetic work which insightfully details the American Indian's surprising and sometimes continuous contributions to cinema, from behind the Hollywood war paint and from beyond the reservation. Eminently readable and certain to astonish any movie buff who has assumed that Hollywood's version of Native life began with John Ford and ended with Kevin Costner.—Steven Bingen, author and film historian
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